The Sisyphean Task of Designing a Faster and Better Boarding Process

Passengers preparing to board United Airlines' final Boeing 747 flight.

By Paul Riegler on 28 November 2017
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The holy grail for airlines is to speed up boarding. Unlike deplaning, which tends to be fairly orderly albeit slow, boarding is an intrinsically slow process, somewhat akin to herding cats. With people traveling together who cannot be separated for even several moments, language barriers, people running late, people focusing on their mobile devices instead of getting seated, much about the boarding process will never change. In addition, for some unknown reason, some people seem to forget what they learnt in Sesame Street, namely how to count, and have difficulty understanding that row 22 isn’t immediately behind row 3.

As a result, airlines are continually experimenting with new boarding ideas and this is the reason behind the fact that multiple airlines have announced new boarding processes in recent months.

Most are variations on the back-to-front model, while some use outside-in. Airlines board passengers in first- and business-class cabins first, typically with or followed by those with elite status. This crowds the aisles and slows down the process because, except for some of the largest airliners, most airplanes are boarded through the forward door and coach passengers have to traipse through those cabins to get where they are going.

Currently, airlines use a variety of boarding procedures including back-to-front by row, outside-in (window seat, middle, then aisle), block boarding (outside-in within a zone starting from back to front), reverse pyramid (back-to-front combined with outside-in), as well as several other methods including random.

Typical considerations in minimizing boarding time include whether passengers have to wait an inordinate amount of time in the jet bridge or to pass other passengers in the aisle, whether passengers have to cross over those who are already seated in middle and aisle seats, and the time it takes to stow luggage in the overhead bins and take a seat.

Next month, British Airways will implement a new boarding process, its second in two years. It plans to board passengers by zone although all coach passengers will board in either one or two of the last zones, depending on whether it is for a short-haul or long-haul flight.

Last month, JetBlue Airways announced a new boarding process. After passengers in the Mint premium cabin and those with elite status board, passengers with window seats in the back half of the plane will be the first to board. After that will follow passengers in middle seats in the back and front window seats. Then will come those with aisle seats in the back and middle seats up front, while the final group will be for passengers with aisle seats in the forward part of the cabin.

Click here to continue to Page 2New Boarding Processes at American and Delta

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