Airports, Airlines, Aviation

The Boarding Process Examined

This week I am going more the op-ed route and expressing my opinion (like I don’t already) rather than providing factual insight into the travel industry. For any of you that have traveled extensively and can’t afford the business or first class treatment, boarding is a grueling processes.  In the US, a domestic route almost always involves an infuriating boarding process. Now much of this can be blamed on the airlines. With the institution of checked baggage fees the mission of many passengers is to see how much they can stuff into their suitcase, get it passed the gate agents and slam it into the overhead bin. It is quite frankly astonishing what people think is an allowable size for a carry on these days. I have been on very few domestic flights over the past few years where I haven’t had to assist someone lift their bag into the bin because they got a little over zealous with their bag size. In some respects the passengers are to blame but I get the mind-set, you never know if you will need that pair of fancy clubbing shoes when your on a remote beach in Panama, I get it. I try to travel light to avoid such situations but we can’t all be great travelers.

Photo Credit: Cathryn Jakobson Ramin.
Photo Credit: Cathryn Jakobson Ramin.

Are the Airlines To Blame?

I found the below video on the website  It breaks down the different boarding methods imposed by airlines and how they stack up in terms of boarding times. The video really picks apart the traditional model that working back to front is the most inefficient. To me this is obvious, if you have a bunch of people in the same section trying to board at the same time, obviously its going to clog and slow things down, even if you start form the back. I did find it shocking but many of the mainline US carriers, JetBlue, American and Spirit still follow this logic. Turnaround time is of crucial importance to airlines, especially LLC’s why would you use an antiquated model of boarding. I personally thought the randomized boarding process would be the best disperse the crowd randomly and keep the people traveling on the same reservation boarding at the same time. I have had my issues with United in the past but I was very impressed they institute this boarding policy. If was starting an airline this would be the policy I would institute.

Best Boarding Model Doesn’t Mesh with Satisfaction

The outside in model clearly works well in terms of performance but is lacking in customer satisfaction. As the video points out this model will split up people traveling together and force them to board separately. In most cases this definitely won’t fly, not to mention most people wouldn’t obey their boarding zone, they would go with their companion either way. I can’t see many airlines sacrificing customer satisfaction to save a few minutes on the tarmac especially when the ground crews are still loading bags and adding fuel.


The best performing model is the sit where you want model. We all know this model because Southwest lives and dies by it. While I generally enjoy flying Southwest, not knowing my seat beforehand is slightly bothersome, but I can’t deny boarding is usually painless, especially when I get zone A. I understand the logic, you head towards the empty seat avoiding the crowd and reducing clogged aisles. People do love to sit near the front but if I see the aisle and window seats taken up front, I am heading for open rows towards the back. In terms of customer satisfaction, if you get group A or even B you are feeling pretty good but if you get stuck with C, you are totally dejected. You can see it in their eyes when they board, only seeing middle seats and knowing there is no hope for salvation. This can ruin the flight for some people. If I have the middle seat I need to prepare myself mentally and physically with a couple strong bloody Mary’s.

Turnaround time

Closing Thoughts

Boarding procedures that are efficient are good for airlines as they act as cost saving. Less time spent at the gate means more flying, moving pax and selling tickets. There is the question of do airlines want to be efficient when boarding? On the flip side now that airlines have instituted early boarding options, why would they want to board efficiently? In a way they want you to be pissed off and purchase an upgrade. Get on the plane early and relax why others struggle. Also passengers are willing to accept slow boarding, as long as their carry on’s don’t have fee’s. The gate agents also need to step up their games, enforcing baggage rules and making sure people board only when their group is called. If you know you are boarding last be sure to use the tripchi app to be your guide to waiting your turn at the airport.




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