I’m quite sure I’m “preaching to the choir” here when I express how crucial air travel efficiency is both in the grand scheme of modern transportation and for our mental health while traveling, but it’s a topic that needs to be addressed all the same.
Always enjoy reading your articles, Prof! Unfortunately this sounds like another excuse for airlines to charge us more money:
"My thought would be to also combine this with better luggage handling. Airlines could offer passengers a way to secure space for their luggage (the same way they secure their seats), or find faster ways for passengers to collect their checked luggage upon arrival."
As a frequent traveler for business, one thing I noticed causing time to board planes is that certain people struggle to lift suitcases or other things above their heads and into the bins. Certain people with weak hands and arms (sometimes women, kids or elders) struggle with lifting bags above their heads and onto the bin. I typically help people when I notice their struggles, but not everyone helps. In my opinion, this another cause for delays.
I wonder if United retrofitting its bins will do much. Passenger behavior and efficiency goes hand in hand, and possibly bigger bins might just lead to passengers bringing more/bigger carry on. Seems like a way for passengers to pay less than checking in bags. Increased regulation at the boarding counter to ensure passengers don’t bring bigger carry on might just increase the total boarding time. But if bigger bins do end up reducing the bottleneck of finding space it should exceed a benefit of 2 minutes, in my experience as a traveler.
Very nice piece Professor Allon.
I've been trying to get smarter people at airlines or in universities to scrutinize my simulation of de-planing, which I've termed "Fill & Flush."
You can play with this simulation at www.fillandflush.com to compare the status quo to my columnar proposal.
I'd be honored if you shared this with anyone you think might take interest.
Airplane boarding definitely poses many inefficiencies. While you mentioned that saving two minutes in boarding time doesn’t seem like a big improvement, I’d like to point out that Forbes estimates each additional minute on the ground costs roughly $100. When multiplied by close to 5,000 daily flights, this totals to almost $1 million each day. Additionally, the cumulative time saved could reduce the number of flight cancellations, a massive challenge and cost for airlines. As you identified, WMA may not represent the best approach, but even small enhancements offer a large upside.
I think the optimal way is the Steffen method, where passengers board from back to front, in alternating rows, on alternating sides. Starting with the window seats, this process is replicated next for the middle and then the aisle seats. Despite the difficulties from priority boarding that other boarding options also face, the Steffen method combines a few techniques to create the most efficient approach.
Ultimately, one of the main considerations for airlines is the tradeoff between offering the fastest boarding and charging for premium boarding. Although airlines save money from having less ground time as I discussed above, they have a bigger incentive to not improve their current techniques. Yet again, these corporations benefit at the expense of the consumer…
The airlines make pretty good money out of having customers pay for choosing the seats. The boarding policy needs to honor the paid customers' preferences. For example, ppl tend to pay for seats in the front, so the back-to-front strategy may not work.
How does Southwest's approach fit into your simulations? Since checked bags are free, passengers should feel less pressure to use a carry-on bag AND since they don't have assigned seats that should allow for more flexibility in how the plane is filled.
Really enjoyed this read and the insights you had! Regarding the new WILMA boarding method by United Airlines, do you think the addition of larger overhead bins by 2026 will significantly streamline the boarding process and address current passenger concerns?
Insightful as alway, Prof. Although, in my view, UA should add a T to its new WILMA process -- for all those who travel with, my definition of, hideous Tumi luggage. This, of course, also applied if one is in a premium boarding position traveling with their Tumi luggage.
Au contraire - https://youtu.be/oAHbLRjF0vo?si=FAOyhpp0lu5ZsCFS
How did you model seat shuffles vs. luggage stowing blocks? The paper referenced by that video finds empirically there is a difference between the two & posits WMA is much faster. Also, thoughts on the “Steffen Method” described? How does it perform under your simulation method compared to the B2F and WMA?