Space + Flight

29
Aug

The Simplest, Fastest Way to Board a Plane

If there’s one thing that airlines and passengers can agree on, it’s that the boarding process takes too long. For passengers, the entire process is frustrating—the waiting in line, the jostling, then the waiting on the plane. Airlines don’t like it much either, as they only make money when planes are in the air.

For years, researchers have been studying the process and tuning mathematical models in an effort to learn the fastest way to board a plane. They’ve solved the problem on paper numerous times—they’ve reduced the number of groups, boarded outside-in, even let people on the planeat random. But when new approaches are put into practice, reality often intercedes. Carry-on bags, “elite” boarding lines, even stubborn children all introduce their own delays.

Fortunately, on most planes, there’s another way. Or rather, another door. Here’s Wired’s Jason Paur:

The most unusual — and deceptively simple — idea is simply opening the door at the rear of the plane in addition to the door at the front. Alaska Airlines is trying this at a few airports, including its home base in Seattle and Mineta San Jose International Airport in San Jose, California. The idea isn’t entirely new — many airlines, including Alaska, open the front and rear doors at those airports where there is no jetway, only a staircase leading to the tarmac.

read-door-boarding
The fastest way to board a plane is to use both doors.

Simply opening the back door can shave as much as 10 minutes off boarding times. In an industry where every minute at the gate can cost an airline up to $30, that’s no small savings, especially when stretched across thousands of flights every day.

So what’s keeping airlines from adopting the practice? Well, Alaska’s solution requires passengers to walk across the tarmac before entering the plane, but most planes these days are boarded via jet bridges. There are a few, such as the 747 and the A380, that use jet bridges to access multiple doors, but none of those use the rear door. That’s because the wing gets in the way. Until jet bridges are modified to get around that, most of us will be stuck boarding the old fashioned way—slowly.