Fermilab Physicist Offers Alternative To Standard Airline Boarding

BATAVIA, Ill. (WBBM) — A Fermilab physicist thinks he’s solved a problem that costs airlines millions of dollars and costs travelers unlimited aggravation.

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, Dr. Jason Steffen normally thinks about things like how did the universe start and where’s all the dark energy, but while mowing the lawn he decided to consider why it takes so much time to board an airplane and he came up with an idea.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

Steffen said the current system of boarding the last five rows, then the next five rows forward — and so on — clearly wasn’t the way to go about it, because everybody is in the same tiny aisle trying to access the same seat rows and overhead bins at the same time.

Steffen says the ways it’s done now is about the slowest way it can be done.

He envisioned a number of different schemes until he hit upon what the calls “the optimum boarding plan,” which he’s tested with live people and their luggage, and found it cuts boarding almost in half.

Under his procedure, he boards every other window seat — first on one side, then every other window seat on the other side. Next comes every other middle seat, and then every other aisle seat. Then it starts again with remaining window seats, middle seats, then aisle seats.

That way, everyone has elbow room to put luggage in the overhead, then time to sit down before every other middle seat is boarded and so on.

He says that, in tests with 72 people in a small airplane, his procedure cut boarding time in half.

Steffen says it definitely works for boarding, but he doubts it will work as well for exiting, because passengers are impatient to get off and probably wouldn’t listen — even if the instructions would allow for a faster exit.

He says airlines have not been calling him, although his work has been widely published. But he says he believes that if all airlines followed his system, the total annual savings would be more than a billion dollars a year.

  • Guest

    They should hire him as a consultant to fix all the problems. The other big problem is overbooking. It seems someone should be able to figure out how many people actually show up for their flight. They are overbooking by too many people and then paying people to take another flight. One flight to Europe we were bumped so many times, that if it happened once more, they would have paid us to fly there.

  • Chris

    But that would momentarily separate families. A parent with a child won’t want to leave the kid and board without him. It’s the situating of all that carry-on baggage that takes up time, strollers, wheelchairs. Won’t work.

  • Guest

    Good point, but don’t throw out the concept. The good doctor should try his method but load families either first or last. That concept may upset some people, but this variation should be evaluated to see if the benifits of the original plan are dimished (nor not).

  • John Wozniak


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