Please be seated
A faster way of boarding planes could save time and money
Sep 3rd 2011 | chicago | from the print edition
THE job of the professional astrophysicist is to contemplate the music of the spheres. Given the global nature of modern science, however, today’s astrophysicists often spend just as much time confronting the cacophony of the airport. Now, one of them has devised a way to make that experience a little less tedious. Jason Steffen, from Fermilab, near Chicago, has designed and experimentally tested a faster method of boarding aeroplanes. By his calculation, it could save airlines hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Dr Steffen spends his time thinking about such things as extrasolar planets, dark matter and cosmology. After waiting in a particularly long queue to board a flight, though, he began to harbour an interest in the mechanics of getting people on to planes. In 2008 he wrote a computer simulation to test different methods. Using a numerical technique familiar to him from his day job, he was able to find what looked like the best. He has put his answer to the test, and the results have just been submitted for publication to the Journal of Air Transport Management.
According to Dr Steffen, two things bog down the boarding process. The first is that passengers are often forced to wait in the aisle while those ahead of them stow their luggage and then get out of the way. The second is that passengers already seated in aisle or middle seats often have to get up and move into the aisle to let others take seats nearer the window. Dr Steffen’s proposal minimises the former type of disturbance and eliminates the latter.