Fastest Way to Board a Plane? Random Seat Assignments

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    Jul 26, 2011 8:39 PM GMT
    At least according to American Airlines - kind of cool:

    Boarding an airplane can be a bit like the after-Christmas sale at Wal-Mart. Passengers jockey to get better positions in line as gate agents bark commands. On board, the aisles become clogged with travelers stuffing luggage the size of a fourth-grader into overhead bins.

    So American Airlines undertook a two-year study to try and speed up boarding. The result: The airline has recently rolled out a new strategy—randomized boarding. Travelers without elite status get assigned randomly to boarding groups instead of filing onto planes from back to front.

    If you want to avoid the bedlam and board early, there's a fee for that, of course. Passengers at some airlines, including American, offer the option for about $10. With randomized boarding, some passengers may still want to pay the early boarding fee to ensure they will have plenty of overhead bin space. American, a unit of AMR Corp., insists boosting fees "is not the purpose behind this" random system, said Mark DuPont, American's vice president of airport services.

    Nonetheless, the new system—which the airline says can shave three to four minutes off the average boarding time of 20 to 25 minutes—may touch a nerve in an industry where many travelers feel burdened by fees for services that used to be free.

    American's study relied on observers closely watching thousands of aircraft arrivals and departures to see where the process slowed down. One time factor was baggage: More bags are being carried into the cabin rather than checked in order to avoid fees. Back to front slowed because only two people on average got to their seats at a time, and everyone else standing and waiting started filling up bins at the front of the plane.

    "Back-to-front turns out to be the most time-consuming," said Mr. DuPont.

    American ran computer simulations of different boarding options and found that boarding passengers in window seats first, followed by middle and then aisle, was faster. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc. both employ window-middle-aisle boarding schemes, and United will switch its Continental Airlines unit, which boards back-to-front, to window-middle-aisle next year.
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    Jul 27, 2011 1:37 AM GMT
    In all honesty, I think that any type of boarding pattern could be made faster if people lined up and boarded when their section is called. It just irritates the hell out of me when they call for elites and platinum travelers or disabled and special needs travelers and EVERYONE stands up and gets in line! icon_rolleyes.gif
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    Jul 27, 2011 1:48 AM GMT
    If they really want to speed up boarding, increase on-time departures, and make all our lives simpler - they should require everyone to check their luggage, allowing one bag for free. They waste more time at the gate waiting for people to (over)load the carry on bins.