Video: the best way to board airplanes

Courtesy Steffen
Boarding order diagram

Between over-friendly TSA pat-downs, "junk"-scanners, and endless lines, we can all agree that airport security is a nightmare.

For my money, though, boarding a plane is even worse. There's the dreaded "sorry, your overhead bag won't fit, so we're checking it." There's squeezing past your seatmates to plop into your spot... on top of your seatbelt. Most disconcerting of all is that panicky, hurry-up-and-wait feeling.

Ever wondered why? Why must boarding a plane always play out like a slo-mo trainwreck? Turns out there's a simple reason: the airlines use the single least efficient boarding procedure possible.

It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out a better way, you say? Actually, it did—astrophysicist Jason H. Steffen, Ph.D., of the Fermi National Laboratory in Illinois.

Burned by one too many awful boardings, Dr. Steffen used computer modeling to concoct a more efficient scheme, all based on the common sense observation that competition for aisle space is the main cause of gridlock. Under his plan, passengers begin by filling up every other row, starting at the back of the aircraft, with window seat passengers entering first, then middle-seaters, then finally aisle seat-holders.

The new TV show This vs. That tested the "Steffen Method" to see if his computer model held up. Take a look at the video below to see how well it works.

In the end, Steffen's scheme blew the competition away, taking just half the time the airlines' plan takes. Their method—boarding by blocks of seats, starting in the back—came in dead last. Random boarding, which we covered a month ago, placed in the middle of the pack.

If you're in the mood for an academic read, here's Steffen's paper, which covers all the results in detail, using charts and fancy graphics.

So... how 'bout it, airlines? Are ya ready to adopt the Steffen Method?


—William Bailey


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