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jun 29 2011

New boarding procedures lead to chaos in the cabin

Boarding a plane in Hawaii. (Courtesy coolmikeol/Flickr)

Anyone who has boarded a plane in the past few years knows the process is a total quagmire. The addition of checked baggage fees has only made boarding more of a scramble, as passengers vie for covetable overhead space so they don't have to gate-check or pay a dreaded $35 and up.

Each airline has had its own way of dealing with herding passengers into their seats, as speedily as possible. Most airlines use the group boarding process; a number on your boarding pass correlates to your position on the plane, generally starting with the back of the plane. (Of course, elite passengers and families with small children get to board first.)

Four years ago, Southwest introduced a system where passengers are assigned a letter and a number (not a specific seat), correlating to your check-in time. They even produced a touchy-feely video explaining the process—with raves from the passengers they interviewed.

The latest? American Airlines has now rolled out a similar system to that of Southwest's to very mixed reviews. All passengers—save for first class and elite passengers—are assigned a number based on when they checked in for the flight. It may sound fair but the result is creating mayhem in the cabin. According to a recent story in USA Today, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants is reporting complete "chaos in the cabin."

I've always wondered why more airlines don't adopt the "outside-in" method of boarding; start with people seated in the window seat, move to the middle, and then end with those on the aisle. Imagine all the time we'd save if we didn't have to wait for people to scoot back out, let others in, and then reseat themselves—row after row after interminable row.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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