A Better Way To Board A Plane

by Jimmy Akin

in Curios & Humor, Science

Cartoon-airplane Later today I'm scheduled to get on a plane to fly to Reno, where I'm going to be giving a talk tomorrow morning on the Church Fathers.

I expect that they'll do the standard thing and have us board by "zone numbers" out of a desire to cut down on the time it takes to board so that we get on the plane in an efficient manner.

But it turns out that the "zone number" system is really poorly thought out.

In fact, new evidence suggests that it's worse than letting people board RANDOMLY.


Because everyone in a certain zone gets on at the same time and they get in each others' way trying to find their seats, stow their carry-on things, get seated, and buckle up. They're all seated next to each other. Of course they're going to get in each others way!

Randomness is better than that.

But it seems there's a better way still–designed by a Fermilab astrophysicist who, I'm guessing, is as frustrated with commercial air travel as the rest of us.


It helps keep people out of each others' way and cuts boarding times in half.

Maybe the airlines will implement it and we'll get some relief.

Probably not by later today, though. :-(








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Douglas September 7, 2011 at 8:18 am

I like the first comment on the popsci site,
“It’s faster, but it won’t work because people who travel in groups, like families, want to sit beside each other in the same row. In his method, they’d have to enter the plane separately. Who would let their child who they’re flying with get on the plane without them?
I’m aghast he hasn’t thought of this problem.
It might be able to be modified to account for this, but it will probably both increase boarding time and still separate people who don’t want to be separated.”

JohnE September 7, 2011 at 8:27 am

You’d think with all the nickel and dime charges for bags, headphones, and snacks that the airlines would have conducted some research on this as well.
One possible hang-up on this new method though. It might work well for single travelers, but I think couples, families and groups would prefer to board together to make sure they have all their belongings and no one else in their group has any problem boarding — and they all most likely would sit together in the same row.
I think if they could make better use of all the doors to board the plane it would speed things up too. Maybe after 9/11 they want to make sure they get a good look at everyone coming on board.

Maureen September 7, 2011 at 9:59 am

Obviously, the first groupmember to board brings the whole group with him/her. Pick one, pick all.

The Masked Chicken September 7, 2011 at 10:46 am

A far faster way, of course, would be to open two doors.
The Chicken

Jake September 8, 2011 at 11:13 am

What’s really needed is a modular seating system where you sit down and buckle yourself into a seat in the gate, and at boarding time, a computer moves all the seats on a track system and snaps them into place inside the plane. Keep your hands inside, please.

Paul S. September 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm

@JohnE “Pick one, pick all in the group.”
I like this (and thought of it while reading the posts). Combine this with another suggestion of charging for carry-on rather than “cargo hold” luggage, then there really would be some more efficiency.

Tim Falen September 21, 2011 at 9:51 am

Like standing, communion by rows, and armies of Eucharistic Ministers– it has never been about efficiency. Pre-boarding has always been about making people feel important.
I would eliminate pre-boarding. Those needing assistance should board after all those trying to schlep their carry-ons thru the aisles occasionally dropping them on the disabled. Need assistance? Wait until everyone is seated and then we’ll help you. That’s what assistance is? Not getting on first. You will, however, get off first.
Depending on the length of the fuselage, there are weight & balance considerations to warrant zone seating, sometimes. But the Southwest style cattle call on short bodied 737s is anything but random. When your card says zone “C” you know that stands for

    Center seat

As a flight crewmember, I often deadhead in the cabin. Because I’m taller than average, I try to get the emergency seat; something I could often do when SWA extended preboarding privileges to other crewmembers. However, now they are enforcing a rule that says: “If you pre board, you may not sit in an exit row.” As if it ever had anything to do with handicap status.

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