Painful part of flying may be fixed by COVID-19

It’s one of the more tedious parts of airline travel – the clunky process of boarding a plane.

Often it’s done in a wildly illogical fashion, so you’re left standing in an aisle while the person seated rows in front of you unpacks and repacks a bag that they are grappling with in an overhead locker.

A painfully familiar sight. Picture: iStockSource:Supplied

* See more: Why I’m always the last passenger to board a plane

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But now, thanks to social distancing measures around the globe that encourage people to maintain 1.5m distance from one another, airlines are having to rethink the way passengers board their aircraft.

Traditionally, many airlines load aircraft based on the passenger’s elite status, the cost of the ticket and whether the passenger pre-purchased a seat. Because of that, many carriers and aircraft typically load from the front to the back — which means that passengers in the front of the aircraft get exposed to every passenger behind them walking down the aisle.

In the US, Delta Air Lines has revised its boarding process so that passengers with seats in the back rows of the aircraft board first. This new process aims to “to support social distancing and reduce the instances of customers needing to pass by one another to reach their seat,” the Atlanta-based carrier explained in a statement.

Presumably other airlines will start to follow suit, and will hopefully adopt the back to front approach into the future.

What is actually the quickest way to board a plane?

An astrophysicist named Dr Jason Steffen developed a proven boarding method in the 2000s … but airports and airlines have yet to adopt the idea, according to the ABC.

There has to be a smarter way … Picture: istockSource:istock

In 2008 he used an optimisation algorithm and a computer simulation to come up with a way that could cut passenger boarding time by three quarters.

The key is getting passengers seated in a particular order so they don’t get in each others’ way.

Four years after coming up with the method, he conducted an IRL experiment where people were recruited to board a mock Boeing 757 with 12 rows of six seats and an aisle down the centre.

Steffen’s method was compared to

* boarding in blocks from the rear

* random seating

* “Wilma” seating (window seats, followed by middle seats, then aisle seats last).

Interestingly, block boarding (the method currently used by many airlines) was the slowest, taking almost seven minutes. And Steffen’s method was the fastest, taking just over three and a half minutes.

What does his method look like?

If a plane has 20 rows of seats, with three either side of the window, 20A will board first

Then 18A, 16A, 14A and so forth

Then boarding shifts to the other side of the plane: 20F, 18F and so on

Next, the odd row window seats board in the same way

Repeat for middle seats and aisle seats.

Is there a solution to the bottleneck? Picture: iStockSource:Supplied

Amazingly, not a single airline has picked up Steffen’s method since it was published in 2008.

Which is mind-boggling when you consider a quicker boarding time saves the airline big bucks – an idling plane can cost between $40 and $337 a minute, and delays cost an estimated $39 billion each year in the US alone according to the ABC.

Ultimately, Steffen thinks airlines should still allocate seats, but give up their current boarding method.

“My advice to airlines would be: aeroplane’s open, everyone jump aboard,” he said.

– With Fox News

* See more: The ultimate airport survival guide

* See more: The seven rules of plane etiquette

Originally published asHow we board a plane may change for good

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