Ways to Load Planes Quickly

In these tough economic times the airlines are always trying to find ways to save money. One of the most expensive costs associated with running an airline is the costs of keeping an aircraft on the ground.

That’s correct, when a plane is flying it’s cheaper to run than when it sits on the tarmac.

This is because airports charge airlines for using their facilities, and explain why many low cost carriers park out on the tarmac and make you walk down the stairs and across the apron rather than pull up at an air bridge. Using an air bridge is more expensive than not using an air bridge, and low cost airlines keep costs, and therefore fares, down by using as few facilities as possible, and by staying on the ground for as little time as possible.

It also explains why airlines like passengers to board on time, as delays cost money. So airlines like to have passengers board as quickly as possible, so they won’t miss their allocated takeoff slot.

The airlines have even had experts working on ways to improve embarkation to speed up the process.

Dr. Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist at Fermi National Laboratory in Illinois, is one scientist who has tried to calculate a better way to board passengers quickly.

He suggests that loading passengers by alternating rows, starting from the back of the plane, is quickest. This works by loading people in rows, so travellers in window seats file in first, then middle seats, followed by those in the aisle seats.

They’ve even tested out various ways of boarding aircraft using volunteers to determine the most economical method. Using a group of 72 would-be passengers, each with hand luggage, the Steffen method took just three minutes and 36 seconds. A similar method, called the “Wilma’ method, in which passengers boarded not by rows but my all those in window seats first, then all those in middle seats, followed by the aisle seat passengers took four minutes and 13 seconds.

Just boarding the plane randomly, for which passengers could board in any order they wished, took only four minutes and 44 seconds.

The most common method of boarding aircraft, which is called the “block” method, a system that is used my many airlines which seats passengers in descending groups of rows, took six minutes and 54 seconds. “Back to front” boarding, which loads travellers one by one in descending rows, didn’t fare much better at six minutes and 11 seconds.

Which is all very well, except I believe passengers don’t really care how long it takes to board a flight. From my observations, it appears that after a long flight passengers just want to get off the plane as quickly as possible so they can head for the nearest toilet.

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