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An Allegedly Better Way To Board An Airplane

by on August 30, 2011

There might not be a more stressful part of traveling than the simple act of boarding a plane these days. That’s because a lack of overhead bin space and a preponderance of people carrying bags on the plane because they don’t want to spend twenty-five bucks checking them means it’s a race to get aboard as early as possible. And because people can’t find their seats, or can’t find bin space, or can’t comprehend the idea of buckling seat belts, it’s a free-for-all, it takes forever, and it’s just annoying.

Dr. Jason Steffen of Fermilab developed a method a few years ago that he said would cut 40% off the time it takes to board passengers on a plane. The simple idea is to have window seats board first, then middle seats, then aisle seats, all in alternating rows. A TV pilot called This Vs. That, kind of a Mythbusters clone by producer Jon Hotchkiss, took him up on the challenge, corralled 100 people to try his method, and the result is what you see above.


But I’m not that impressed, because this resembles no boarding procedure I’ve ever witnessed, not due to the order of boarding but because I don’t see things that ALWAYS happen during boarding: Someone’s bag doesn’t fit. There’s no room in the overhead. Someone’s carrying too much and they struggle to fit in the aisle, then in their seat. Someone has to use the lavatory while people are boarding. DId I mention there’s NO FREAKIN’ ROOM IN THE OVERHEAD? Someone wants a blanket or a seat extender. Someone wants to sit next to their friend whom she just met in the Chili’s 2 Go in the terminal. Any one of these things would throw Dr. Steffen’s brilliant idea into chaos. More than one? Armageddon with Samsonite.

You’d also be assuming that everyone’s at the gate on time, that everyone’s orderly and well-behaved and won’t rush the gate or try to slip on board ahead of their group. Since I’ve never seen a plane where that stuff doesn’t happen, I don’t think those are safe assumptions. Plus, are you going to take couples and families who are sitting together and board them separately, one at a time? Yes, the plan says you can make minor accommodations (as long as none of them are near the front of the cabin), and it does include the “families with small children board first” exception, but I just don’t see this standing up to the kind of behavior you get from airline passengers. (And if I had a dime for every family with small children who show up at the gate well into general boarding, dragging two strollers and countless diaper bags and other accessories….) If I thought it would work, I’d be all for it; I’ll take anything to make my life easier. But I’m skeptical.

And, yes, that’s the guy from Studs, Mark De Carlo, as one of the hosts. Don’t hold an embarrassing old dating game against him.

HT: Popular Science