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Is A Flying Carpet The Solution to Slow Plane Boarding?

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Fun video!

Here’s how it works: 

Picture a rectangular rug printed with an aircraft seating plan in reduced scale, a little larger than a parking spot, placed at the departure lounge gate. At boarding time, 25 to 30 passengers at a time would step onto the carpet and stand on their seat number (on the boarding pass) and color code.

The magic of the carpet is that the passengers are all spaced “logically” along the length of the cabin, so they can easily fill in the rows without bottlenecking. Within a minute, the carpet fills, and those passengers proceed to board while another group takes their place on the carpet. Five or six such groups will fill the typical plane. Individuals, couples, and families can choose to board together.

It’s the most promising solution to boarding backlog since 2008 when Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist at the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics at Northwestern University, famously used an algorithm to figure out how to speed the process up. His conclusion: creating buffers between passengers—giving them time to load gear without slowing down the entire line—makes boarding faster.

After running a computer simulation, Steffen found that airlines should begin by boarding passengers in the back row, window seat on one side of the plane. The next person should also be in a window seat but two rows up until the front of the plane is reached. Next, people should fill in the window seats between each row. The process would repeat on the other side of the plane before moving to middle seats and then aisles.

But in the seven years since Steffen published his theory, airlines have not adopted his plan. They’ve stuck with a variety of models that are proven to be slow and inefficient. According to The New York Times, boarding time took 15 minutes in the 1970s. Today? Thirty to 40 minutes.

Considering that planes sitting idle can cost $400 to $1,000 a minute and up to $100 million a year, why would companies ignore Steffen’s boarding system? Well, for one, airlines have failed to adopt effective innovations because some customer groups expect to board early, United Airlines spokesperson Rahsaan Johnson says.

Darn those privileged customer groups!

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