Ten ways to board a plane as quickly as possible

By Marilynn McLachlan

One of the worst things about travelling is the queues - customs, security and the boarding process.

Up to 500 people will line up at the gate, walk the boarding bridge and then enter through the plane's small door - a process that can take quite some time. In fact the pain of the boarding process is such that some scientists and mathematicians have come up with theories about how to speed it up.

Most recently, researchers from Clarkson University in New York found that if passengers with more carry-on luggage board first then the time it takes to fill a plane is cut substantially.

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Here are 10 methods to get passengers on a plane as quickly as possible.

1. Increase fees for checking luggage

The same researchers noted that the speed of boarding had halved since the 1960s as travellers were charged more for carry-on luggage. According to their research, planes were boarding 20 passengers per minute, which was reduced to nine minutes by 1998.

2. Seat those in window seats first

Known as the Steffen method, people in window seats board first, beginning at the back of the plane, and separated by a gap of two rows, followed by those in middle seats and then aisle seats. The method was developed by a physicist, Jason Steffen, in 2008. Steffen's day job was looking for planets orbiting other stars. He wrote a software program to develop his method and it was adopted by Air New Zealand, but then dropped.

3. The Wilma method

A variation on the Steffen method, this is also an outside-in seating method without the two row gap. Passengers board window first, then middle, then aisle - hence its name Wilma. This method allows those in window seats to stow their luggage away and be seated before those in the middle rows come on board, minimising time spent stowing away luggage and limiting aisle congestion.

4. Boarding the 'third way'

In 2012 researchers from Curtin University and Beihang University in Beijing discovered that individuals had their own speeds that were dependent upon factors such as size and shape of luggage, the time it takes for a ticket to be checked at the gate and how the passenger carries their luggage. They suggested that passengers were assigned seating based on their "optimal speed", their luggage attributes and checking in electronically.

5. Special passengers first

Many airlines, including Air New Zealand, seat passengers who need extra assistance first - such as those in wheelchairs or those travelling with babies. They also invite passengers who are in first or business to board earlier.

6. Rear to front seating

This is a popular method of boarding passengers. Row numbers, starting from the back of the plane are called out and so boarding is staggered, and theoretically, the amount of time spent queuing is shortened.

7. Charge more for getting on first

American Airlines offers passengers the option of "Group 1" boarding, which allows travellers to be among the first to board, giving them first option in stowing overhead luggage.

8. The random method

Jason Steffen didn't get to test his method until four years after he had developed his theory of sitting those in window seats first. When he did, he discovered that the time spent boarding could be decreased by almost 30 percent if passengers were allowed to board randomly.

9. Rotating zone system

Another option, adopted by AirTran Airways involves dividing the plane into various sections, and passengers board according to their zone. Firstly, gold members and those with special needs, then those in the back seats sit, and then the rows behind business class and so on until they meet in the middle.

10. First in, first seated

While the random method involves allowing passengers to board in no particular order, there is assigned seating. The first in, first seated allows passengers who are first in to board first with no assigned seating.

Photos / Thinkstock

- nzherald.co.nz

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