To Build A Better Flying Sardine Can

One of the most hackle raising moments while traveling by plane is the mandible gnashing period while we stutter in the aisle waiting for our fellow passengers to stuff their oversized floral bags into the overhead bins.

To that end, US Airways hired engineers Professor Ren

Villalobos and graduate student Menkes van den Briel who developed a system designed to reduce the amount of interference between passengers while finding their seats. Called the “reverse pyramid,” it has ticket holders, “simultaneously [load] an aircraft from back to front and outside in. Window and middle passengers near the back of the plane board first; those with aisle seats near the front are called last,” reports Wired.

    “US Airways’ Lindemann says the airline has enjoyed significant improvements since implementing the reverse pyramid in 2003, including a 21 percent decrease in departure delays in the first three months following the system’s launch, and a two-minute reduction in average boarding time.”

Bully for them. The most efficient system, however, may rely on the flock dynamics given to us by Mother Nature, as seen in Southwest’s lack of assigned seating.

    “Van den Briel says that while Southwest’s open seating might seem like an invitation for chaos, it actually illustrates a tendency among passengers to self-organize when left to their own devices. “Passengers who are free to sit anywhere usually do a good job staying out of each other’s way,” he explains. “Without having studied it in detail, I would imagine that an open boarding model is faster than assigned seating.”

Click on “See How it Works” on the left in the Wired article to see an animation of how the different methods play out.

Airlines Try Smarter Boarding” [Wired via BoingBoing]


Edit Your Comment

  1. konstantConsumer says:

    southwest’s seems to make the most sense. i’ve never understood why airlines don’t just do general admission. they could split it up into first class and coach, but things would be much easier if you were just told to sit where ever.

  2. Chad Cloman says:

    Some research has been done on this, and there’s a good article about it on (subscription required).

  3. Josh Cohen says:

    So here’s my question: what about if you’re a family with two rows of seats (say, 20BC and 21BC). That’s the worst possible situation because of group splits (middle and aisle) and section splits (16-20 and 21-25, which is how Airtran did it last time we flew them). Is there a policy, like “if you’re flying with children under the age of 13, board now regardless of what seat number you’re in”?

    It seems almost like they’re trying to split up people flying together so they don’t dawdle in the aisles and look for stuff.

    This sort of thing could get really confusing for airlines that call out seat sections over the intercom. Last time I flew Delta, they did it with a computer screen and automated announcements, boarding by “zone”. It’s almost like that’s how you’d have to do it: set up six to nine columns of information (A through J, since they don’t use I), and under each column put the row number for that seat that is allowed to board.

    Now I’m confusing myself.

  4. Das Ubergeek says:

    If your family is going to be split up and the kids are going to be alone, you just take the whole family and when they say “Rows 21-25 only, sir,” you say, “Yup, my children are in 21 and I’m in 20,” as you walk past.

    The problem with all of this, of course, is that whoever boards last doesn’t get to keep his carry-on with him because there’s never enough room. I remember Legend Airlines where it was all first-class(ish) and you could bring four carry-ons…

    What? What’s that you say? Oh, yeah, it DID fold.

  5. Hawkins says:

    This makes perfect sense. I’m a pretty calm person, usually, but something about the idiocy of the airplane-boarding process pushes my buttons.

    Sadly, there’s still no a cure for when slack-jawed Cletus (who may have a window seat) is blocking the aisle by row 10, trying to jam a 26-inch suitcase into a 22-inch space, forcing the passengers headed to rows 11 though 218 to wait.

    Man, that just snaps my turnip.

  6. Jesse says:

    I’m not sure if it actually works this way, but zone-based boarding could be sensitive to multiple-passenger itineraries. If Mom has the window seat, Junior the center, and Dad the aisle, should could all be put in the earlier boarding group.

  7. Jesse says:

    “Should could all”? I think you know what I mean :)

  8. Maybe it’s just me, but the whole “boarding” process usually goes like this for me:

    Announcer person asks for first/business class ticket holders to board…
    First/Business Class passengers board…
    fifteen minutes pass…

    Announcer asks for Section 1 ticket holders to board…
    A large line forms at the gate as everyone on the flight begins lining up to board whether they are in section 1 or section 5…

    Mass hysteria and chaos ensues as everyone has to wait for Cletus and his oversized carry-on while the flight attendents try to pretend not to notice.

    Again, all these rules for efficient boarding are nice and all, but unless you enforce them they are meaningless.

  9. RandomHookup says:

    How about the pseudo-queue — the people who linger by the podium looking for all the world like they are waiting in line because their row has been called, but really are just cutting off competition so they can get on the plane faster. There’s a huge fear that the seat won’t be there when they board.

  10. matto says:

    That dutch kook has clearly never flown Southworst- boarding and disembarking are always a complete clusterfsck. Open boarding model my flattened, economy-fare ass.