Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tests show fastest way to board passenger planes

BBC Website 31 August 2011
The most common way of boarding passenger planes is among the least efficient, tests have shown.

Boarding those in window seats first followed by middle and aisle seats results in a 40% gain in efficiency. However, an approach called the Steffen method, alternating rows in the window-middle-aisle strategy, nearly doubles boarding speed. The approach is named after Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist at Fermi National Laboratory in Illinois, US. Dr Steffen first considered the thorny problem of plane boarding in 2008, when he found himself in a long boarding queue. He carried out a number of computer simulations to determine a better method than the typical "rear of the plane forwards" approach, publishing the results in the Journal of Air Transport Management.

The approach avoids a situation in which passengers are struggling to use the same physical space at the same time.

Only now, though, has the idea been put to the test. Jon Hotchkiss, a television producer making a show called This v That, began to consider the same problem of boarding efficiency and came across Dr Steffen's work. Mr Hotchkiss contacted Dr Steffen, offering to test the idea using a mock-up of a 757 aeroplane in Hollywood and 72 luggage-toting volunteers.

The block approach fared worst, with the strict back-to-front approach not much better. Interestingly, a completely random boarding - as practised by several low-cost airlines that have unallocated seating - fared much better, presumably because it randomly avoids space conflicts.

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