Boffin Discovers Fastest Way to Board a Plane

When astrophysicist Jason Steffen found himself spending longer than he wanted to in a queue to board a flight back in 2008, he decided to solve the problem using maths, a computer and his brain.

His solution, now known as the ‘Steffen method’, involves filling the plane in alternative rows with window seat passengers boarding first, then middle-row passengers, then those with aisle seats. Most planes are simply filled from the rear door forwards, but Dr Steffen’s approach has been shown to be significantly faster. His method avoids problems caused when numerous passengers are trying to use the same space in the plane at the same time, and has been published in the Journal of Air Transport Management.

The idea was picked up by a TV producer in Hollywood, who found a mock-up of a 757 airliner interior and brought 72 ‘passengers’ with luggage in to try to board the plane in various different ways. Blocks of rows were seated from the back of the plane to the front, and the ‘Wilma method’ was also trialled, which involves seating people in window isle seats then working inwards. However, the Steffen method came out as the fastest, with the random seating methods practiced by budget airlines without allocated seating also proving a fairly efficient method.

In each test, family groups were allowed to board first as such groups will always want to stay together, and getting them seated first saves time in any model. Dr Steffen has now returned to his work at Fermi National Laboratory in Illinois, US, but hasn’t ruled out working with airlines in the future.

“I haven’t received a phone call yet, but the day is young, so maybe that will change,” he commented.



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