Now we get a claim that a professor and a student from Clarkson University have found a better way (Faster Method of Boarding Planes Devised by Clarkson University Researchers, Jan 6). Here they discussing their proposal.
Their work is published in Journal of Air Transport Management and can be found here. Here is the outline of their method.
The key aspect of our proposed method is that it assigns airplane passengers to seats so that their carry-on luggage is spread roughly evenly throughout the plane. This reduces the time passengers take to find available storage in the overhead bins when storing their luggage. We assume each passenger is carrying onto the plane either two bags, one bag, or zero bags which require storage in the overhead bin. In the first two steps of our method, we assign a set of two, one, or zero bags to the seats of the airplane without being concerned about which individual passenger carries that many bags. The third step of our method assigns an individual passenger carrying a specified number of bags to a particular seat designated through the first two steps as being allocated for someone carrying that specified number of bags. Finally, the fourth step of our method has passengers board according to the Steffen sequence based on their assigned seats. The key difference between our method and that of Steffen is that Steffen assumes passengers have been assigned to seats irrespective of the luggage they carry and our method assigns passengers to seats so that the luggage is distributed evenly throughout the plane. Below is our four-step procedure for how passengers should board an airplane.
What to make of this? I think the proper assessment is a Yogi-Berraesque quote (that apparently doesn’t come from Yogi Berra) “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.”
I am not sure that it takes a whole lot of simulations to see that this will work well in theory. Passengers trying to get their bags into overhead bins is clearly one of the things that slows down loading planes. Making loading passengers subservient to filling overhead bins then smooths the flow of people.
But will it work in practice? It is hard to see how it will. Implementation would require that passengers don’t get a seat assignment until they declare how many bags they are bringing on. Further, multiple bags may win them a seat at the back of the plane. It is hard to believe that frequent fliers are going to endorse that. Frequent business travelers are going to insist on carrying on their bags and sitting on the aisle at the front of the plane. (Yes, they care about boarding but they also care about getting off.)
The challenge with this method is that assumes that all the airline cares about is getting passengers on board quickly. Really airlines care about winning customers — especially business travelers — and then serving them efficiently. This scheme may aid efficiency but does so at the expense of annoying travelers.