Tuesday, August 30, 2011

DANG! Apparently, it takes a Fermilab astrophysicist to determine the most efficient way to line people up when boarding a plane.


  1. You know what would make planes board faster and save money?  Eliminating checked baggage fees, because then, people wouldn't be trying to cram every known possession into a too-big carry-on and wedge it into the overhead bin, taking forever to get in and out of the plane.

  2. isaac_spaceman7:01 PM

    Matt -- airlines won't eliminate checked baggage fees because they make money on them, not in a theoretical "the time savings are worth $100MM" way, but in a "these thousand bags netted us about $15,000 dollars after increased fuel and labor costs" way.  What I think is likely to happen eventually is a reservation-and-fee system for overhead baggage.  Overhead bin space is more valuable than checked baggage space -- it allows light travelers to get in and out of the airport quicker and eliminates the risk of lost luggage.  If you made people reserve overhead bin space and pay for it, you would make money, put an end to people trying to wedge oversized bags into the bins (because the size would be more strictly regulated, and reduce the incentive for people to line-jump in order to get their rollaways on board.  I'm sure the only reason this hasn't happened yet is the first mover problem, but it's coming.  Frankly, I'm okay with it.  I'd prefer not to pay for an overhead bin, but it is a valuable good and I'd rather pay for it than fight for it or lose it to the guy with the hockey bag who has to put it in sideways. 

    I'm okay with the boarding solution in the article (minor adjustments: pre-board families with small children and people who need assistance, and don't start the remaining process until those people are all settled, because fluid dynamics and traffic studies show that bottlenecks create lingering "ghost obstructions" so that it would be better just to wait before starting the process).  The problem with it, as with all boarding systems, is that it doesn't work without enforcement.  A lifetime of flying suggests to me that no matter how specific you are about people lining up (e.g. Southwest, which gives you an actual number telling you your exact place in line), there still will always be a few people who pretend (badly) not to understand the system and who jump the queue. 

  3. Meghan7:01 PM

    Again, I say paying to reserve a spot for carry-on bags in the overhead compartment would make things easier too.  Instead of checked bags, charge for carry-on.

  4. JosephFinn7:05 PM

    People in the back go on first and those behind them are allowed to nudge them to g**damn walk and not look around like they're taking a historical tour.

  5. isaac_spaceman7:33 PM

    Yeah, stupid Fermi scientists.  Physical altercations would make everything go faster.

  6. JosephFinn9:22 PM

    Isn't this why we have Air Marshals?

  7. gtv20002:08 PM

    The problem with these studies is that the deny the existience of the 6th person in the diagram, who has a seat near the front.  This person walks on slowly, gets to his row, sets his suitcase in the aisle while he sets his bag on the aisle seat.  He then, while talking on his cellphone while moving slowly because he is distarcted, takes his laptop out of his bag and sets it on his seat and slowly re zips his bag.  He then sets the bag in the overhead, gets something else out of his suitcase and rezips his suitcase, puts his suitcase in the overhead, takes down his bag and puts what he got out of his suitcase into his bag and puts it on the seat.  All of this while still talking on the phone.  Only after this  3 minute exercise does he see fit to clear the aisle.  This then clears the aisle for someone two rows farther down to perform the same routine.

    When people are oblivious to those around them, it doesn't matter what the planners try to do.