Advertisements

Getting people on and off an airplane quickly is so complicated that even an astrophysicist couldn’t figure it out

Mysteries of boarding bedevil airlines

BY DAVID KOENIG AP

AUG 1, 2013

DALLAS – Getting people on and off an airplane quickly is so complicated that even an astrophysicist couldn’t figure it out. The astrophysicist, Jason Steffen of Northwestern University, normally contemplates things such as axionlike particles. But after waiting in one boarding line too many, he turned to the mysteries of airline seating. “I thought there had to be a better way,” he says. So, after a series of calculations, he deduced that the best system would be a combination of filling window seats first, then middle and aisle ones, while spacing the boarding passengers two rows apart. There was just one problem — passengers would have to board in precise order. Good luck with that. “Well,” Steffen observes, “I understand why airline people aren’t calling me.” But the search for the perfect boarding process goes on.Most airlines allow first-class and other elite customers to board first. After that, some fill the rear rows first and work toward the front.

Others fill window seats and work in toward the aisle. Southwest Airlines has random seating: There are no assigned seats — passengers sort things out themselves. They can pay extra to be near the front of the boarding line.

All of this matters more than you might think.

Passengers want to board early to find space in the overhead bins for their carry-on bags. For airlines, every minute that a plane sits at the gate makes it more likely that the flight will be late, hurting the carrier’s on-time rating and causing passengers to miss connecting flights.

There’s an economic cost to running late, too. Researchers from Northern Illinois University say that at one major airline, which they didn’t identify, every extra minute at the gate added $30 in costs.

Anything to tidy up the gate area will help, in the view of Yosief Ghirmai, an auditor for defense contractor Raytheon Co., who says foreign airlines make boarding much easier for elite-level frequent fliers such as himself.

“The international airlines respect the priority boarding system,” Ghirmai says, citing Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific as an example. “Here, you have to fight to get to the priority boarding line — all the bags, all the kids. The concept (in the U.S.) is the same, but the execution is much better over there.”

Boarding methods go back to the dawn of commercial flight, but they’ve gotten more complicated as the airlines have created different classes of passengers and sold the right to board early.

Since 2008, most large airlines have imposed fees for checking a bag, which encourages passengers to carry more on board. At the same time, airlines have reduced flights to control costs, making planes more crowded. The result: Space in the overhead bins has never been more valuable.

Recognizing the potential value in that coveted real estate, Spirit Airlines began charging for stowing a bag in the overhead three years ago — the fee now runs up to $100.

Spirit says the fee speeds up boarding by reducing the number of carry-on bags.

In May, American began offering early boarding to passengers with just a personal item that fits under the seat.

In a test at several airports, it cut boarding by two minutes per flight, according to Kevin Doeksen, the airline’s director of customer planning. With about 1,900 flights per day on American, that adds up.

The back-to-front system, still used by many airlines, seems logical. But some studies have shown that it’s slower than windows-middle-aisle.

“If you’re on the aisle and somebody sitting next to you in the middle seat shows up, you need to unbuckle and maybe get up,” says Ken Bostock, United’s managing director of customer experience. “That can take 20, 25 seconds, and that happens a lot during the boarding process.”

Advertisements

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: