When it comes to aircraft boarding, what is the best way to go about doing it?

Commercial flying can be a real bear, from airlines charging per carry-on item, long security lines and crowded flights. But another aspect of flying that has the potential to be frustrating is the boarding process. Many frequent fliers favour Southwest Airlines’ process, which doesn’t assign seats so that people can choose to sit where they want. Others prefer the old, traditional way of having zones assigned at check in and boarding according to zone number.

Whichever way you prefer, there’s got to be a better way. Right?


What Doesn’t Work in Aircraft Boarding

According to a story in The Economist, one means of boarding that is horribly inefficient is going row-by-row. However, while a study from the publication found the process to be slow and tedious, it did find boarding row-by-row to be easy to understand.

While airlines don’t use the row-by-row boarding means, a common boarding process is the “block boarding,” where passengers are grouped into classes or zones and allowed to board when their zone is called. However, according to a study detailed in New Scientist, that way is inefficient too. Why? Because many passengers have to climb over other passengers that previously boarded and are seated to get to their seats. So while many airlines, such as Delta, American and United, use the “block boarding” process today, it’s hardly an efficient one.


What Does Work in Aircraft Boarding

According to research that is published in New Scientist, the fastest way to board a plane is by boarding per row, but with a twist. According to computer simulations that were carried out, here’s how to board a plane as fast as possible – it’s called “the Steffen Method”:

  • Board every other row of window seats on one side of the plane, then do the same thing on the other side of the plane.
  • Board every row of middle seats on one side of the plane, then do the same thing on the other side of the plane.
  • Finally, board every row of aisle seats on one side of the plane, then do the same thing on the other side.

The simulation was actually tested in real life on the set of an airplane in Hollywood, using movie extras and volunteers. All in all, five boarding methods were tested, including the back-to-front method, random boarding method and block, or zone, boarding method. The Steffen Method topped all of them.


The Future of Aircraft Boarding

While the Steffen Method seems to be a fast, logical boarding process, no airline has yet to institute it. So what’s currently the best way to board? Likely Southwest’s process. But until a better way is implemented, the best way to ensure a smooth boarding is to buy a first class or business class ticket and ensure you’re among the first to board.

Who will be the first LCC with rapid turnaround times that will try the Steffen Method to save minutes a flight to decrease turnaround times even more?


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