Boarding an aircraft could be seven times more efficient


Boarding an aircraft could be seven times more efficient, saving airlines and passengers time and so potentially improving the income potential and quality of life for both, according to astrophysicist Jason Steffen of the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics in Illinois. Challenging the current standard of loading passengers in blocks from the back of the aircraft forward, Steffen instead employed the Darwinian “Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm” to streamline things. Translation: He picked random boarding plans, ran them through a computer and kept the best attributes of each until he arrived at an optimum combination. His solution requires slightly more concentration and cooperation (and perhaps intelligence) from the boarding public. The winning plan has occupants lining up outside of the aircraft in order from window seat to aisle and skipping every other row. A 30-row aircraft would be boarded first by the passengers holding tickets for seats 30A, 28A, and 26A. Behind them in line would be those assigned to 29A, 27A and 25A. This would go on until all the window seats were filled. Then, the same system would fill in the middle rows and then the aisles. The real advantage of the system, according to Steffen, comes from spreading out individuals instead of concentrating them, and their baggage, together.

Of course, this method would also temporarily separate the jealous husband from his flirtatious wife, part loving parents from their unruly children, and otherwise rely on the organizational skills, patience, cooperation and common sense of the flying public … which some might argue are commodities not in generous supply. Regardless, the astrophysicist says his research indicates that even random boarding would be more efficient than the grouping method currently employed by most airlines, today … saving them time spent on the ground and therefore potentially allowing them to make more money.


Southwest comes awfully close to this random boarding. Sure, the passengers line up according to a number but it’s basically random once on board.

Southwest, by the way, is making money and I think the open seating boarding they have contributes to their profit.


That right there should tell you it’ll never work in the real world. I wonder who paid for this study…

I was once apart of an Airtran science project at a new loading procedure…can’t really remember what they concocted but it was a complete disaster. I think they loaded rear, front, middle-rear, middle-front. I think we left a 1/2 hour late and the FA’s had steam coming out their ears.

IMHO, Southwest seems to work the best. I like picking who I sit with and usually will get on pretty late just for that purpose. If wifey/kids are going, then we go earlier so we can sit together.


using boarding stairs is also very efficent alot of the low cost carriers in Europe use it like Easy Jet and Ryanair.


No one paid for the study; he did it to satisfy his own curiosity. After a poor boarding experience he decided to investigate optimal methods employing techniques he uses as a physicist (i.e. Monte Carlo simulations).

For an interview see this article:


In many cases, it’s not a matter of wanting to use stairs but the fact that many airports don’t have loading bridges.

JetBlue does it right in Long Beach. The airport doesn’t have any loading bridges. JetBlue uses stairs at the front and rear of the aircraft.

Burbank airport also doesn’t have any loading bridges. If I recall correctly, Southwest used both doors when I flew out of there.


Doesn’t it happen to be quicker then other airlines boarding process too?


Never ever ever count on the general public to be cooperative or even mildly intelligent about anything.



Haven’t we all seen the “Place Common-Sense Here” boxes at terminal entrances…


Southwest boarding is far from random

It’s Front-first boardings since the plane fills up window and aisle seats in the front, working to the back, then middles from front to back.

Random boarding would be more like everyone has a seat assignment, but there are no boarding groups, Airtran used this system for awhile and most airlines use it for delayed or lightly booked flights.


You must fly a different Southwest than I do. Quite often, I see people heading towards the back of the plane, even when there are seats available up front.

Assigned seating is not random. Just because the airline doesn’t call boarding group doesn’t make it random. They have an assigned seat. Southwest, on the other hand, is random because no one knows where she will be sitting.


To answer the question about who paid fo t this, the answer is the US taxpayers. Fermilab is a US government lab run by the DOE (often called department of everything). I actually have a great deal of respect for the people working at these labs. Very smart people (usually) working on important projects for the US.


actually Easy Jet chooses to use stairs even at airports where loading bridges are avaible…and Ryan Air uses the lowcost terminal at Marsielle (sorry for bad spelling) even though the main has loading bridges.


Do all gates at Marseilles have loading bridges?


I’ve boarded 757’s at the second door which seems to make things more efficient. First class to the left, cattle to the right.


We could learn a lot by watching the Japanese. Most of their domestic flights between the major cities are on 747s and 777s on JAL and ANA. They unload an load these jumbo jets in less than 30 minutes. It is amazing to see. They have wide jetways and usually three ticket turnstiles. Everybody boards at once, there are signs that point you to the correct aisle for your seat letter. It’s like boarding a subway. These guys operate 747s on the half hour during the day on runs from Tokyo/Haneda to places like Sapporo and Osaka and they do it on time. Of course, the Japanese are used to be crowded and always follow the rules, not like we Americans.


Absolutely right. I flew on a JAL747 from Nagoya to Tokyo. When I asked for a window seat on the left side so I could see Mt. Fuji, they upgraded me to first class, left window, first row. I sat with my feet literally in the nose. UAL gives me three little pretzels in a bag.


They gave you PRETZELS? You lucked out. They cancelled my flight, put me on another airline the next day, and the other airline gave me three little pretzels in a bag.


Sounds like the prezels were big enough to see with the naked eye and not broken. Some people have all the luck!


I don’t know, but I think Southwest has it down the best as far as boarding goes. I like the 20 minutes turnovers from one flight to another. They are so efficient and I think the big carriers should take a lesson. The longer the plane sits on the ground the more money the airline losses. I think American tops the list on slowest boarding process and turnover.