New Looks at Loading and Boarding Planes


alaska air jetwayLoading an airplane quickly and efficiently isn’t an easy task. “It should be, and could be, but the humans involved can’t seem to get with the program,” writes Wired Magazine (Aug. 28, 2013). Better loading means more time in the air – which is where airlines make their money. The boarding process is far from standard – there are almost as many boarding procedures as there are airlines. This problem has long been pondered by operations managers, without a definitive answer. But there have been a few promising experiments.

The most unusual and deceptively simple idea is opening the door at the rear of the plane in addition to the door at the front. Alaska Airlines is trying this. The idea isn’t entirely new–many airlines open the front and rear doors at those airports where there is no jetway, only a staircase leading to the tarmac. Alaska has a new tool to help facilitate using both doors–a solar-powered ramp. Mounted on wheels, the ramp can be driven to the backdoor of the airplane, and passengers make two switch-back turns down the ramp to the ground, providing an alternative to stairs for easy suitcase rolling and wheelchair access. Using the aft door to unload passengers can reduce the turnaround time by 10 minutes.

One of the big reasons boarding has slowed to a crawl is people are carrying more bags aboard to avoid baggage fees. So American Airlines is experimenting with letting those who checked their bag board first. Ideally, these passengers will simply walk to their row and sit down. The airline says that overall it has shaved a few minutes off the boarding process.

Although airlines commonly board by sections, it’s generally a free-for-all with regard to where in that section you are. United uses the “outside-in” method of seating window passengers first, then middle, then aisle seats. The airline has been organizing passengers in better defined lines at the gate for each group, with the hope is there will be less of a bottleneck.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

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