Speedy Airplane Boarding

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 23, 2011    •    773 Views

Closely connected to an airline’s bottom line, speedy boarding means more efficiency. Here you can see the following alternative boarding strategies in action.

Front to back:

  • Least popular.
  • Early boarders block those who follow them.

Back to Front

  • Very popular.
  • Used by Continental, Alaska Airlines and others.


  • Check-in time is one way to decide boarding sequence.
  • Preferred by academics as one of the fastest approaches.
  • Used by Southwest, American Airlines and others.
  • American Airlines’ flight attendants say it creates confusion.

Rotating Zone

  • Alternating back and front for contiguous groups of seats.
  • Air Tran uses it.

Reverse Pyramid

  • Back-to-front with outside-in.
  • Unused.

Flying Carpet (really?)

  • Unused.
  • Designed by an Australian mechanical engineer.
  • On a carpet with the seats drawn, a passenger stands on his/her own seat. After 20-30 people position themselves on the carpet, that group boards. Because there is no room for seatmates to stand next to each other, boarders automatically are dispersed for optimal boarding.

According to the LA Times, United Airlines believes in “outside-in” while Continental boards “back to front.” Now that they have merged, will they choose one or compromise with a reverse pyramid?

The Economic Lesson

    When an airline boards people more rapidly, it is utilizing land, labor and capital more efficiently. Best illustrated by Southwest Airlines, a fast turnaround means fewer airplanes are needed because more flights can be scheduled using the same equipment. Then, the land, labor and capital that might have been used inefficiently can be allocated elsewhere.

    An Economic Question: Referring to cost (defined as sacrifice), explain why faster lines benefit buyers and sellers.


    One Response to Speedy Airplane Boarding

    1. Anonymous says:

      Faster lines and efficiency will benefit both the buyer and seller because while sellers will have more time to serve an increased amount of buyers, buyers will be able to spend the time that was saved from efficient lines in order to work and earn more money.

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