Expedited Boarding

Airlines have procedures to board from rear to front. They do this, they say, because it allows faster boarding. This makes intuitive sense, though I have never personally tested it.

The alternative is the “all rows, all seats” call with everyone boarding in random order.

With that understanding, why do airline gate agents consistently call “all rows, all seats” when the plane is running late and they are trying to make up time?

Posted from seat 12F, Delta 1510, 15 minutes after scheduled departure.

4 Replies to “Expedited Boarding”

  1. LOL. Great question. I think that Matt May’s books about the elegant solution might have a thing or two to say on this one. It reminds me of the examples of good traffic without the use of traffic signals. Guess what, in Wyoming when there were no speed limits, people drove slower! That goes against my intuition. The problem is that both of our intuitions ignore the most important part of the equation; the fact that these are people.

    People are naturally orderly beings that already know how to work in groups. When there is no order imposed on the group (as in the case of an “all rows all board” call) then the group will naturally develop an order that will likely be ideal. If on the other hand, order is forced on the group, then people immediately feel like they can shut down their better nature and rely on the order imposed.

    When order is imposed people will also attempt to beat the system and break the order. Ever seen people trying to push their way to the front of the line while waiting for their rows to be called? Isn’t that the most illogical thing to do in the world? The plane can’t move until everyone is on. Everyone in the line WILL get on the plane. So essentially people are fighting to spend more time in a cramped confined plane.

    What happens in the all rows, all board situation? People make the decision on their own and without an imposed order the decision is generally logical. The parts of boarding that the order ignores (like the fact that I have an aisle seat so I might as well wait until the guy at the window is on…) get naturally adhered too. One of the systems takes advantage of the fact that you have 200 brains and at least 180 of them can think. The other assumes that there are 200 bodies and the best bet is to not let any of them think.

    Kris Hallan

    1. It would be an interesting project to organize a mass study by people who fly frequently.
      Start timing when the first “pre-boarding” call is established, and stop when the flow of passengers into a plane has been reduced to a trickle. (You can’t use the “door close” as a stop point because it is an artificially scheduled moment.) Yes, it would be a judgement call, but over enough flights, it would establish a baseline.

      Keep track of the type of plane, or at least the class of plane.

      Over time we would have a valid sample of “imposed order” boarding times.

      Whenever someone is in an “all rows, all seats” situation, time that too.
      A little math, and we can probably determine which works better.

      It would be an interesting study to publish.

  2. Last month I was on a Delta flight to Amsterdam where they gate agent conducted the boarding by seat letters, from window to aisle. The big advantage to getting on sooner is the chance to snag overhead space for the luggage you probably shouldn’t be carrying anyway. On a flight to Denver on Frontier, the gate agent offered preboarding to anyone who gate-checked pieces of carry-on items. Is it a new ploy to take borderline carry-on luggage so you can gate-check it and get it sooner?

  3. You missed a few other oddities about flying. For instance, when the plane lands, taxis to the gate and finally stops, as soon as the “fasten seat belt light” goes off, everybody jumps up and opens the overhead bins. This allows them to stand there for the next 10 minutes before the line actually moves. Why? Words (and reason) fail me on this one. I’m comfortably sitting in my seat (with more room now) until just before I have to get up to move with the line.

    Then there’s the people who carry on bags that are obviously too large to fit in the overhead bins. They always act surprised when no amount of physical bullying will allow the bag to fit into the space allotted. Meanwhile the rest of the passengers have to wait as the line stops due to the blockage. Worse yet, when the offending passenger finally gives up on cramming the bag in, they have to fight their way (against traffic) back to the front of the plane to gate check the bag. No waste involved there!

    Finally, coming back to the initial point about boarding, I remember waiting in line in the jetway to board one day. When I turned around, I find the co-pilot standing behind me. When I offered to let him go in front of me, he simply said “Don’t worry, they’re not going anywhere without me.” Good point. So why does everybody “hurry up and wait?” Sounds like good old fashioned mass manufacturing theory to me!

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