The holidays are approaching, and you know what that means. Lots of travel, and lots of long lines. Flying home for Thanksgiving can be dreadful thanks to the traffic in airports, and one of the most painful processes can be waiting to board your plane.
No matter how early you get to your gate, you're subject to the zone number displayed on your ticket as well as the efficiency of the passengers ahead of you in line. It doesn't seem like it should be rocket science, but boarding an airplane remains to be one of the most inefficient uses of our time.
Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University, was getting fed up with the chaos, so he decided to take matters into his own hands, and he claims that the traditional system for boarding a plane is inherently flawed.
Most airlines stick to the back-to-front method of boarding a plane, according to a report by Wired. So the people who sit in the back board first, and the people in the front last (barring business and first class passengers obviously). In theory, this should work because it avoids crowding up the front of the plane by sending passengers to the back and creating space for more passengers to board. However, in reality, it ends up creating just as much crowding and takes just as much time as front-to-back boarding.
This system simply creates traffic as the passengers in the back stuff their luggage into the overhead bins. Passengers end up having to wait for those in front of them to put away their luggage and the waiting continues.
"All you have done is move the line from outside to inside the airplane," Steffen told Wired. "But the line doesn't move any faster."
Realizing that the airlines were failing to improve on the system, Steffen decided to figure out the optimal method for boarding a plane.
He created a simulation that let him get an idea of what would happen when passengers boarded in different orders, and he came up with the following solution:
The passenger in the back row window seat of either side of the plane should board first. Then the passenger in the window seat two rows up. Continue going with that pattern until you get to the front, and then repeat for the other side of the plane. Then start boarding the window seats of the rows you skipped, one side at a time. Repeat for middle seats and then aisle seats. And according to Steffen, you'll have boarded at least five times faster than the average back-to-front boarding.
Can you imagine if it took a fifth of the time it currently takes to board a plane?
The problem is that Steffen's model may be a little too theoretical for reality. What happens when passengers are no longer individuals but a couple or a family with kids. Odds are they won't feel so comfortable boarding separately for the sake of efficiency. And then there will be people who show up to the gate late and mess up the order. Or people who don't speak English and don't understand how the boarding process works.
So unfortunately, you probably won't be seeing Steffen's method at your nearby airport anytime soon.
"It does require a bit of control over the passengers that I don't think airlines really have," Steffen explained.
Looks like you may be needing that in-flight cocktail after all.