A study has shown that the most common method of boarding passenger planes – in row blocks or zones from the rear to the front – is also among the least effective.
Instead, an alternative approach involving boarding passengers from the rear to the front, starting with those in window seats, sequentially followed by middle and aisle seats, in alternative rows has been found to be the quickest solution.
It has been called the “Steffen method”, named after Jason Steffen, an Illinois-based astrophysicist who has simulated different ways of boarding aircraft using volunteers in a mock cabin, to speed up the boarding process.
The Steffen method requires passengers to line up in order, with the first group simultaneously filling window seats in every other row (i.e. row 30A, 28A, 26A). The next group then fills the window seats in-between (29A, 27A, 25A), then boarding in alternate rows repeats for those in middle seats and finally aisle seats.
It is claimed that the Steffen method is among the most effective as it makes full use of aisle space, reducing bottlenecks caused when passengers use the same physical space to stow their bags.
Airlines and academics have tried to find the best boarding strategy for many years, aware that more time on the ground amounts to lost potential revenue.
Airlines are also starting to use random boarding methods to shave off boarding time.
American Airlines (AA) changed its boarding process in May, following a two-year study. The carrier now boards passengers without elite status in the order they checked in, regardless of where they are seated. The airline says the new process can cut three to four minutes off the average boarding time of 20 to 25 minutes and has since expanded the method from the US and Canada, to Europe and Asia.
Separately, American boards premium passengers in three groups, followed by those paying for priority boarding in three groups.