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. Also, see below for a list of people and businesses who have developed simulation models for airplane boarding).
Back-to-front boarding (contingous rows from the back to the front)
Random boarding (first class seats then all seats in economy)
By Seat boarding (mix of outside-in and back-to-front)
Airlines that use them
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:
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
Back-to-front and rotating-zone The main disadvantage here is is that you are boarding only a small section of the airplane. Imagine boarding back-to-front five rows at a time, that is, thirty passengers are trying to get seated in five rows all at the same time. Clearly, this is not going to work out well and passengers will line up in the aisle waiting for other passengers to get seated. When the next group is called, their row (section) will most likely still be completely blocked by passenger who boarded in the group before them. On top of this, passengers may have to get out of their seats in order for other passengers, seated closer to window, to reach their seats. This will clog the aisle even more, and the aisle is your most important resource when boarding an airplane.
Random The big plus for this strategy over back-to-front boarding is that you are boarding the plane over all rows. This means that more passengers may be able to get seated at the same time then when you board only a small section of the airplane. Obviously, passengers will still bump into each other, and passengers will also line up in the aisle waiting for other passengers to get seated, but since this happens across the aisle more passengers (on average) will be able to reach their seat at the same time. Still a problem, however, is that passengers may have to get out of their seats in order for other passengers to get seated.
Outside-in and reverse pyramid Like random boarding you are boarding all (or in case of reverse-pyramid many) rows at the same time, but now you are avoiding all the unnecessary seat interferences that require passengers to get out of their seats after they are already seated. Passengers will still bump into each other in the aisle as some of them need to go further back in the airplane. Such aisle interferences cannot be eliminated when you are trying to board a fully loaded airplane efficiently.
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