One of the unseen slowdowns of air travel is the time it takes to properly board an airplane. After clearing security and practically disrobing in front of strangers, you still have to wait your turn to enter the plane, then tango in the aisles while finding a place for your bags, then squeeze into your appointed berth. It almost seems like it this system inefficient by design, doesn’t it?.
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It turns out that there are better, faster ways to board an airplane. In short, anarchy prevails. Well, sort of. Astrophysicist Jason Steffen has come up with a new method for boarding passengers onto planes that everyone find their seats at the same time, and as it turns out, when people are free to sort themselves out, they do so much more efficiently.
He tested methods where people board from back to front, or window seats followed by middle and aisle. He also tested the time-honored process of boarding in blocks of rows, as passengers have been doing for years. Steffen’s model predicted letting passengers board at random would be quicker than the back-to-front or block boarding models, meaning his calculations show those methods actually slow things down.
Steffen is a Fermilab physicist, with an extensive background in computer models, which helped him devise his method. And one of the amazing things about watching the short video clip is how often three passengers simultaneously take their seats, or open the luggage bins. The experiment was recorded using a mock fuselage from a 757 on a Southern California sound stage with 72 participants, and has not been approved by the FAA. Steffen’s has published his findings, and you can access them here, if you’re interested.