Monday, March 17, 2008

Airplane boarding

A year ago, I was 22 and I had only taken a plane once. Since then, I've taken six trips using an airplane. As an amateur optimizer, the whole process of boarding the plane always seemed inefficient to me. But much work has been put into finding efficient boarding algorithm, this page seems to describe the different methods pretty clearly.

So I won't talk about getting in the plane but rather about getting out. Unfortunately, airline companies don't really have any kind of control over the passengers so the process is rather chaotic. Let's examine how it work:

People at the front row of the plane get up first and leave, followed by the people in the second row, third row, etc. until the plane is empty. This is roughly how it goes. The big problem here is the presence of overhead bins. Let's use a plane with 3 seats on each side of the single aisle as an example. Only the two persons on the aisle seats of each row can actually get up and access the overhead bins. What that means is that when it's (finally) time for your row to leave the plane, four people will have to take the time to take their carry-on luggage from the overhead bins.

Since the aisle space is the bottleneck here, every second you block it is a second that everyone behind you lose. When you're in the last row you lose a lot of time because of that! Why is that happening? It's pretty easy to understand. If it takes you five seconds in the aisle to take your stuff out, that's only five seconds to you, even if it might be multiplied by the hundred people waiting behind you. I guess it's the "I waited this long, now it's my turn, I'll take as much time as I want" phenomenon we can see in whatever other situation where there is a long wait time. Once you're not waiting anymore you don't realize lots of other people are still waiting.

What can you do to help? Well, if you're in the aisle seat, offer to bring down other people's luggage from the bins. That should help tremendously. Otherwise, when it's your turn, try to avoid staying immobile in the aisle, try getting your stuff and then go back to a seat if you need to adjust your bag or whatnot.


MzK said...

I agree, it does take too much time to exit an aircraft. Unfortunately for travellers, it's not the deplaning and planing of passengers that requires the most time, but the unloading and loading of cargo.

If the described case was indeed an aircraft turnaround time bottleneck, one can be sure that airlines would optimize the process as much as every other, by for example having flight attendants require aisle-seated passengers to do what you proposed.

Simon F. said...

I don't disagree with you, it might very well be the unloading of cargo that is the bottleneck and if one has checked in luggage then one would trade waiting inside the plane vs waiting at the luggage carousel.

But what if I don't have checked in luggage and this is my final destination? Which is the case for most business travelers. I don't care about the cargo unloading time, I only want to get out of the plane.

But in the end, the airline companies don't have enough incentives to try to speed up the plane's "unboarding".

Jen(n) said...

now I see why you got that job at Google :)

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I am taking domestic flights most of the time for the working purpose most of the time. These types of situations are pretty normal to be faced once you are going in the airplane.