Analytical and simulation results show that group/zone boarding can speed up the airplane boarding process. Airlines use a number of different group/zone boarding systems or boarding rules, the idea (there are numerous variations) of some of them, are shown below. By pressing play you can view a simulation of different airplane boarding strategies. Note, random boarding (i.e. boarding all rows at the same time) is faster than back-to-front boarding. Hence, you will actually speed up the boarding process if you board before your turn in back-to-front boarding. Try and explain that to your boarding agent :) See comparison study for a summary of results.
Back-to-front boarding (contingous rows from the back to the front)
Random boarding (first class seats then all seats in economy)
Several airlines use priority boarding for passengers travelling with small children, first class passengers, business class passengers, frequent flyers, certain card holders, and passengers who check in online. The remainder of the passengers boards using the following boarding systems:
(*) KLM is currently testing a boarding method that appears to be (unable to find details) a variant of By-Seat boarding.
Getting from point A to point B
One of the main factors affecting turn time for a commercial airline is passenger boarding time. Reducing boarding time, however, is difficult since it directly involves the passengers. By assigning passengers to groups (or zones) the airline obtains some level of control on the boarding process. Hence, the problem of reducing boarding time can be seen as how to assign passengers to groups (or zones) so that boarding time will be minimized. One way to minimize boarding time is by minimizing the total expected number of seat and aisle interferences.
Seat interference: A passenger (1A) tries to get to a seat near the window (1B) but is obstructed by another passenger already seated near the aisle.
Aisle interference: A passenger (2A) tries to reach his seat further down the aisle (2B) but is obstructed by other passengers trying to find their seats or stow their luggage
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