Airlines Want to Get You On and Off the Plane More Quickly

From boarding at both ends of the plane to penalizing customers with carry-ons, airlines are trying lots of tricks to get passengers to speed it up.

Only 73 percent of the flights of 16 airlines that report such information to the U.S. Department of Transportation arrived on time in July, according to the latest government data.

Reasons mentioned include “aviation system delays,” chain reactions from late-arriving planes, “factors within the airline’s control,” extreme weather, and security reasons.

One other possible reason not explicitly listed: slow boarding.

Stop me if this sounds familiar: You first wait in line for your zone number to be called after the VIPs get on. Once your zone number is called, you wait (freezing or melting) on the jetway to get inside the plane. Then your progress is impeded by the people in front of you removing items from their carry-ons and stowing them, putting on or removing sweaters, and generally making themselves comfy.

And then you sit in your seat a while longer before the plane begins to head to the runway, as everyone else completes those same steps. Distance covered: probably less than 100 yards. Time elapsed: half an hour or more.

Airlines are trying to speed things up, CNBC says. Here’s what they’ve done, or plan on doing:

  • “In March, United Airlines created clearly marked lanes for five different boarding groups,” and started using a “window-middle-aisle” boarding method.
  • American Airlines gives boarding preference to those without large carry-ons.
  • Southwest Airlines doesn’t assign seats. It just lines everyone up and shepherds them in.
  • Spirit Airlines charges a fee for carry-ons.
  • “In some airports in Mexico and at some smaller U.S. airports without boarding bridges, Alaska Airlines boards passengers from both the front and rear doors.” It’s testing that elsewhere.

Engineering teacher Hank Scott has devised a slide-in aisle seat that can be temporarily pushed aside to widen the aisle during boarding and help people get past the slowpokes, CNBC says. He’s trying to get the design approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and then it could potentially be tested on planes.

Which airline do you think boards the fastest? What’s the best method? Let us know on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • ManoaHi

    The best thing is to get rid of baggage charges, and start charging for carry ons more than a computer bag and purse. So much time is spent waiting for the guy who hefts his huge suitcase into the baggage compartment. That is putting it in and later taking it out. Lots of room required to prevent injury to other passengers and blocks the entire aisle while he wrestles the thing in and wrestling it out. The worst is when they take your overhead, because the don’t want to have to take it all the way back to their seat, airlines should prevent people from taking other peoples overhead compartment.

  • Draftdog

    The airlines started charging for checked baggage so people started using carry-on much more extensively. They airlines created this problem and now they want to penalize the passengers.

  • Justin Fallow

    Netrate Concepts plane loading FAST

    The specific boarding method developed by Dr. Jason Steffen is so efficient, Consumerist (via Popular Science)
    reports, that it can cut boarding time in half. Although Steffen came
    up with this boarding technique of his own two years ago — (Why haven’t
    we seen changes yet?) but he recently tested three different methods of
    boarding to see what was most effective:

    Boarding the plane in blocks (think “Now calling all passengers in Zone 1 and 2″)

    Random boarding (similar to Southwest’s method)

    The Steffen Method

    What Steffen found, aside from the fact
    that his method was best (naturally), is that random boarding still
    more efficient than boarding according to zones. Here’s how the Steffen
    Method Works, according to Popular Science:

    First, passengers sitting
    in the window seats on one side of the plane all board at once, in
    alternating rows (row 1, 3, 5, etc.). Then the same is done on the other
    side of the plane. Then the middle seats, still in alternating rows,
    boards on the first side of the plane. That continues with the other
    side’s middle seats, then (first one and then the other) aisle seats.
    Then, do it all again for the even-numbered rows.

    See the Steffen Method in action:

    As Consumerist observes, the Steffen
    Method maximizes aisle space making it more natural and efficient for
    passengers to effectively stow luggage and find their seat. The Steffen
    Method, as the video states, doesn’t prevent hangups like boarding with
    children or passengers in the wrong seat. But, “it can at least speed it

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