Is There Any Way to Speed up the Airplane Boarding Process?

We've all been there. You finally get to your seat on an airplane only to sit and wait for everyone else to board.

Mathematical research proves that letting the slowest passengers board first speeds up the overall boarding process.
Mathematical research proves that letting the slowest passengers board first speeds up the overall boarding process.

And while there might not be a way to make the process entirely painless, researchers have used mathematical models to determine the optimum boarding method: Let the slowest passengers go first.

Using four-dimensional computer simulations, scientists from Israel, Latvia, and Norway considered which boarding method was the most promising: having the fastest passengers go first, having the slowest go first, boarding everyone randomly, and boarding from the back row to the front.

From the outset, it appeared that having the fastest passengers board first was the best option, but that changed as the calculations neared their completion. The fast-first method is optimal up until boarding reaches 98% completion. However, in the last portion of the boarding period, the slow boarders held up the process significantly.

It turns out that letting the slow boarders go first is 7 percent faster than any other method. The researchers explained that while those first minutes might be tedious, in the end the process will run much more smoothly.

What's so hard about getting on a plane:

  • Boeing says that the average time it takes to board a plane is twice as long as it was in the 1970s, from 15 minutes then to 30 minutes today.

  • Experts say the best way to speed up boarding time is to let passengers check bags for free, but that would cost U.S. carriers more than $4 billion a year.

  • Astrophysicist Jason Hyrum Steffen has published research in which he seeks to prove that the fastest method for plane boarding is to start with all of the window seats, followed by aisle seats.

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