By Tuan Nguyen
Posting in Education
Physicist Jason Steffen has devised the Geffen method, a procedure for seating passengers that cuts plane boarding time in half.
As much as travelers hate waiting around at airports, the airlines themselves have plenty of incentive to get passengers onto the runway by the quickest means possible. Flight delays, for instance, can end up costing a company an additional $16 million dollars each year, according to a recent study.
That's enough of a loss for airlines like Continental to start implementing new boarding measures to help reduce the number of delays and improve turn-around time. Now, Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist at Fermi National Laboratory (Fermilab), has devised a strategy for seating passengers that cuts boarding time in half. Based on a mathematical formula, the procedure's efficiency was demonstrated on an online video show called "This vs. That."
His approach, appropriately dubbed the Geffen method, is similar to the Wilma method where passengers are seated in waves in three, beginning with the column of seats next to the windows, then the middle column, then the isle seats.
There are a couple key differences, however. Instead of doing it by intervals, the passengers are lined up in a predetermined order depending on their assigned seats. The passengers with window seats will still be seated first, but in alternating rows starting with the seats located at the back of the aircraft and progressing towards the front. Doing it this way helps cut down on isle congestion as travelers look for their seats and stash luggage in the overhead bins.
Besides the Wilma method, Geffen's seating plan of attack was also pitted against three others that included seating people from the back to the front, randomly and by blocks, a strategy used by most airlines where each group of passengers are given a turn to seat themselves according to which section of the plane their seats are located. Here are the timed results of the test:
- "Block" boarding (six minutes and fifty-four seconds)
- Back-to-front (six minutes and eleven seconds)
- Random (four minutes and forty-four seconds)
- Wilma method (four minutes and thirteen seconds)
- Steffen method (three minutes and thirty six seconds)
Carrying out a real-life test proved to be important because although he had already successfully tested his theory using computer simulations, modeling actual human behavior based on mathematical algorithms don't always pan out.
"As far as the actual amount of time it took to fill the plane, the times didn't agree - because I didn't know how long it took people to put their luggage away and walk down the aisle," Geffen told BBC News.
"The basic conclusions I drew were realized; the method I proposed did the best, and the other ones landed where I would've predicted," he added.
As far as saving airlines millions of dollars, Geffen says he's stilling waiting for that all-important phone call. So in the meantime, as long as there are still atoms needing to be smashed, he'll be keeping busy.
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Aug 31, 2011
While all this probably makes theoretic sense, I think in practice you could never get everybody lined up by rows, or if you did you would have to spend more time in the terminal getting everybody lined up in order than it takes to board the plane. When they did the tests with people, they were working with volunteers with whom they probably did a detailed explanation first. These people weren't bored or not paying attention. They weren't giving in to the all too human urge to jump to the front of the line so they could get their carryon baggage stored. They probably didn't do any tests with young kids.
Does anyone know why airplanes aren't boarded through both the forward and rear cabin doors at the same time? Is there an FAA regulation about this? This would save a lot of time for both boarding and disembarking. Of course, airports would need to install double enclosed gangways, a cost issue. I have been on flights in which both cabin doors were used in stairway boardings off the outdoor tramac, and boarding goes very quickly.
Aside from the logistical nightmare of lining people up prior to boarding, do they really think that they'll be able to split families and friends up with Dad boarding number 5, Suzie number 35 and Mom number 55. Never happen.
If you want to run a mobile corridor to both the front and back cabin doors, if have to get past the wings in the middle. Back in the days when people used to walk out to their planes and climb stairs, I think they did board using multiple doors. The old Boeing 727 actually had a staircase that lowered from the back of the fuselage under the tail, and I remember people used to enter and exit via that as well as the front.
you do bring up interesting point about families and children. surely, a software tweak could be made, in which everyone within the same reservation number would be kept together in the same boarding number. in fact, the software could even prioritise family boarding by making them first before others get to board. that is the way most airlines and amtrak do it at large terminals - passengers with small children or with disabilities get to board first, since they need a head start to get going down the boarding area, and then others follow afterwards in the boarding queue.
The question then becomes: would it be worthwhile for airlines and airports to invest in ways (such as elongated corridors that go around the wings, or parking the plane parallel with the waiting area) to move people in and out of the rear cabin door? Could the savings from faster boardings cover such changes in airport infrastructure?
Details provided were schetchy but basically they banged up the plane with the second walk way. Haven't heard anything further