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Old 11-19-2013   #1
Old Guy in a PFD
Tucson, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1967
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 1,022
If I was in charge of an airline

What with the holidays looming, and everyone planning their flights to see Grandma and what not, I wanted to share my thoughts about one of the worst parts of flying.

The boarding process.

Now, it used to be that airlines boarded from the back to the front, the idea being that you got the back of plane loaded before the front of the plane jumped on, you know, so they weren't climbing all over each other.

Now, airlines are compelled to load their high mileage customers, and their visa card holders, and families, and aunt Ida, before the rest of the cattle get loaded.

I was stuck at the airport for 4 hours last week, and watched how Southwest and American were loading their flights.

With Southwest, your boarding order is dictated pretty much by when you check in; earlier check in, higher boarding order. The "premium" and families and military still load first, but that group is considerably smaller, and they tended to load pretty quickly. Other than families and military, you pay to get on first.

With American, they loaded their "Platinum Diamond Million mile Visa card holders" first, then first class, then families and military, then their Platinum mile members, then their gold members, then their silver members, and finally zone 1, 2, 3, 4, and finally 5.

Now, here's what I realized. With South west, you line up according to group; A, B, or C, and you get in line according to your number. There wasn't much jostling for position, no angry stares, no crazed looks at the guy holding a zone 5 boarding pass who just "casually" stepped in front of someone with a zone 4 boarding pass.

With American passengers, I saw all of that and more; people intentionally standing in front of other people, cause, you know, there aren't going to be places for all my stuff if you get on before me. I saw one guy even try to slip behind the boarding agent, coming from behind the ticket counter. That, the agent pointedly said, will get TSA on your case. The agent spent a minute or so (an endless time when people are trying to get on a plane) explaining to this fellow why he shouldn't have done that, why it could get her in trouble, and why he was going to go stand "over there" until his group was called.


But the problem with South West is that you don't know what seat you'll have until you get on. If you're in group A or the first half of group B, you pretty much know you'll get your choice of an aisle seat or a window seat, and you'll probably get to sit next to your companion. If you're the last half of group B or anything in group C, you pretty much take what you can find, and likely your bag is going to the very back of the plane, under the seat, or getting checked.

So I had an idea. Combine the two procedures.

You make your reservation, you can reserve your seat. Just like with almost all airlines now, except South West.

It doesn't matter when you check in; your seat dictates your boarding order.

If your seat is 25 F (last row,window seat) your boarding order is A1. If you have the aisle seat in row 24, your boarding order is A9

In other words, board back to front.. Them that MUST be first on, have to take a seat in the back of the bus,

The other thing is, the last to board will have no illusions about whether their bags are going to fit in the overhead, and the boarding agent and the flight attendant can stop people from carrying their bag clear to the back of the bus in the faint hope that they'll find a place for it.

I suppose they'll still have to board the first class and high mileage folks first, the airlines are just locked into that thinking. And, so are the passengers. But, with the new boarding process my guess is all but the most demanding high mileage "I paid my money" passengers will find the new process much less stressful, and more than workable.

And, the plane ought to load faster. You know, so everyone can get to Grandma's on time.

I bounced the idea off a gate agent during a lull in the action. She said it would never work, cause it made too much sense.

But if I was in charge, we'd find out...........

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Old 11-22-2013   #2
Florence, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2001
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 180
Quit making sense, you'll just screw up the whole system. Common sense... not so common.

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Old 11-22-2013   #3
glenn's Avatar
BZN, Montana
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 1,489
What happens when the people who load first don't have any carry on luggage but those who load towards the end do? What happens when the luggage is spread as it is not based on convenience first and space available second. There will be open pockets all over the plane as usual until near the end of boarding with folks trying to go both directions in the isle. I get what you are after and I've had the same thought many times, but I have a feeling the gains in load time aren't as significant as you would hope.

I fly about twice a year with a minimum of 2 hops per destination, so not exactly jet set, but those are my observations. I always prefer gate checks to avoid that non-sense and anything truly essential can sit under a seat always. Get passengers to start behaving in that manor for the general case and you might be onto something, except the jetway baggage handling is a whole different clusterfuck.
The sunshine walked beside her
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Old 11-22-2013   #4
Canon City, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 427
It would seem to me that the simplest and fastest would be to assign seats upon booking (or check-in) and then allow boarding at random. The Steffen Method would be the fastest, but as noted in this article, is impractical (splitting up groups, getting people to line up in a precise order, etc.).
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Old 11-23-2013   #5
Old Guy in a PFD
Tucson, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1967
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 1,022
Watching probably 10 boardings, I noted that the stress level of boarding by groups was much higher; when you line up before boarding starts, rather than standing around in a pack, people get stressed and start jockeying for position.

Southwest boardings were much less stressful; people knew exactly where they needed to be and what to expect when they boarded.

American boardings were obviously much more stressful; people were endlessly jockeying for a better run at the gate, getting in each others way and generally acting like heathens.

I like assigned seating. I'm a big boy, and window or middle seats make not only me but everyone else in the row uncomfortable. I generally book 3-4 weeks early just to have the best crack at an aisle seat. Unless I know I'll have a tight connection or know I'm on a tight schedule, I prefer the back of the plane.

I could see the Steffen process working much better. And, I don't see the issue with being "separated" from your group during boarding. I mean, what the hell, you'll be sitting next to them for the next several hours.

And yeah, board families together early in the process.
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Old 11-24-2013   #6
MT4Runner's Avatar
Kalispell, Montana
Paddling Since: 1997
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1,436
Sounds good to me. I travel light and would prefer to board last! I hate the CF at boarding and like gates with a nearby bar where I can sip my overpriced microbrew until the last possible minute!

I never understood the rush to get on the cattle car, and people who rush to get their fat butt into the middle of the aisle so they can stand there and sort through the bag sitting on their seat piss me off. Separating myself from disorganized people (if only by time) keeps my stress level low.
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Old 12-09-2013   #7
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 2,239
yeah SW 's boarding process is funky but works ok....props to them for having cheap prices ,good/fair flight change policies,and still allowing you two free checked bags, just barely enough to take ducky and gear on a trip!Wish they had more foreign destinations..yeah Schutzie i am a big guy too and usually forget to reserve the long leg seat by the emergency exit and end up semi miserable.MT4RNR yes that is the strategy.I had my routine on connections going through Houston to Cent Amer.,get crab cakes and a couple Sam Adams in between flights and make gate two minutes before boarding.
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Old 12-10-2013   #8
Westminster, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2010
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 286
Southwest is pretty easy to get a decent spot if you check in 24 hours in advance. Usually they will put you in high number A class or low B group. United's new 1,2,3,4,5 kinda sucks. I prefered when they did it by A,B,C A= window, B= Middle, C = Isle. Boarding seemed faster and if you needed space select window, If space didnt matter select isle. Gate checking is always the best way to get you luggage on for free.
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Old 12-14-2013   #9
Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 347
The way that airlines board planes right now is incredibly inefficient. There was a really interesting article the BBC had on their website about this while back. It turns out that using a different strategy can cut boarding time in half.

BBC News - Tests show fastest way to board passenger planes

Apparently it also costs airlines $30 for every minute spent boarding a plane. Multiplied by thousands of flights a day and 365 days in a year they could save an incredible amount of money and make people a lot happier by switching things up.

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