Plane boarding order

Freddie wants to know why planes are loaded from the front. The answer might surprise you.

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Q. Freddie
Could you enlighten me on why airlines load their passenger planes from the front? After business class is loaded, they then start calling passengers for the rear section, then the middle and, finally, economy plus (or world traveller). All of these passengers have to pass through the business seating section while business travellers are still getting settled, putting bags into overhead lockers, getting served drinks etc. It seems to me that loading would be quicker if business class was last to board.

A. There is a simple answer as to why business class is the first to board and that is because those passengers pay for the privilege.

It also has the added advantage of everyone else walking past and seeing exactly what they are missing out on as they make their way to their spot on the plane, perhaps enticing them to spend more on their next flight. In that sense it works as advertising.

The more vexed issue you raise is why the rest of the plane is loaded from the back to the front. It should be noted that not all airlines adopt this method, but it is fairly prevalent across Australia.

It might surprise you to know that there have been numerous studies conducted on the quickest way for passengers to board a plane. These have consistently shown that the back-to-front method you describe is one of the slowest and least efficient methods for seating.

One of the most famous studies on airplane boarding methods, by Jason Steffan, found that boarding by zones was the worst possible method to fill a plane quickly.

The study timed how long it took 72 passengers to file into a Boeing 757, using five different boarding procedures. These included:

  • block or zone method (boarding from the back to the front of the aircraft)
  • boarding in four-row blocks
  • the Wilma method (Window, Middle and then Aisle)
  • the Steffen method (passengers line up in a prescribed order)
  • random boarding.

 

The Steffan method (where adjacent passengers in line sit two rows apart from each other in the corresponding letter seat) and random boarding were at least two minutes faster than the block or back-to-front seating styles.

Popular television show Mythbusters also looked at airplane boarding and found that the back-to-front method took around 10 minutes longer than boarding with no assigned seats and no assigned order.

The back-to-front boarding method is inefficient because it leads to the most aisle interferences.

Which leads to the reason that so many airlines persist with this method? There is no clear answer to this question. Some believe it serves the airlines best interests as it allows them to upsell perks, such as being the first to board, while others have noted that the random boarding is more confusing for passengers and boarding in rows provides a semblance of order that many find more comforting.

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Written by Ben

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