Boarding an aeroplane is painfully slow, and while the back-to-front method used by most airlines is an intuitively good way to get people into their seats quickly, the results are mostly disastrous, says Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University. The problem is that only one person at a time can put their carry-ons in the correct overhead bin. Just a couple people standing behind them (their seat partners) can block the overhead bins of several rows of passengers. The effect continues until you're sandwiched between sleep-deprived travellers, unable to sit down or stow your luggage.
By rearranging seat numbers, Steffen found an optimal boarding solution, confirmed by repeated computer simulations, which allows planes to be boarded at least five times faster than back-to-front methods: "The first person in line should be in the back row, window seat (on either side of the plane). The next person would be in a window seat, two rows up. The line should proceed this way, skipping a row between each window-seated passenger all the way to the front of the plane." Alas, people tend to travel in groups of two or more, and splitting up for the boarding process is not always practical, especially if a parent is travelling with small children. Airlines who have looked at alternatives to back-to-front boarding admit that getting people to follow even simple directions in the weary hallways of airport terminals is, to say the least, difficult. Slow boarding isn't the only unrealized innovation in air travel, said Richard Schayden in his Big Think interview. The aeronautical engineer and founder of Beyond the Edge argues that there is a lack of competition in aeroplane construction industry.
Originally posted on Big Think: http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/airlines-cant-use-fast-boarding-algorithms-because-humans-cant-follow-directions