My most popular post ever was my ground-breaking work on airline boarding procedures: the indispensable Airline Boarding Equivalency Chart.  (If the subject of business travel is ever examined by the Nobel Prize folks, this work may finally receive it’s just due.)

A New Way to Board Airplanes?

Despite my encyclopedic knowledge of airline boarding procedures, last week I encountered an entirely new procedure.  For a recent flight, the gate agent decided to add to United’s Group 1 (see the chart for whom Group 1 normally includes) all passengers:

  • seated in a window seat
  • seated in a middle seat
  • traveling with other passengers seated in a window or middle seat

This meant the only passengers who would not be in Group 1 on this flight would be unaccompanied passengers sitting in an aisle seat.  That would mean yours truly and a bunch of other business travel losers.

This boarding strategy resulted in a Group 1 that stretched 100 yards, while other groups contained only a handful of people.  I have tried to capture the relative sizes of each group in the following pictures:

group-1-business-travel

 

group-2-4-business-travelThe Results of this Grand Experiment?

I bet you are wondering if putting more than two-thirds of the plane’s passengers in Group 1 resulted in a better boarding experience? The answer was, of course, no.   But the experiment did afford me the opportunity to see something I had not seen before: a line that extended the entire length of an extra-long jetway– from the opening of the plane’s door back into the terminal!

What Does the Data Say about Airline Boarding Procedures?

It turns out, there has been a lot of research on the topic of optimal boarding procedures. (In fact, the guys at Mythbusters did a whole episode on the topic).  But this is a topic where the data does not matter.  A slightly faster boarding procedure is not really the airlines’ goal.  The airlines’ goal is a slightly more profitable boarding procedure! A little frustration leads to more upgrades, “skip the line” fees, and premium credit card holders.

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