The Boarding Logjam

March 3, 2023

The glacial pace of boarding planes irritates frequent fliers and airline employees, writes The Wall Street Journal (March 3, 2023). Along with other preflight requirements, it also adds costly time on the ground for Southwest and other airlines, which regularly study ways to speed up boarding.

Southwest employees carry mobile devices to speed up processes such as checking bags.

Today, Southwest is on a mission to shave 5 minutes off the time a plane spends at the gate between flights. The average “turn’’ is now 40 minutes for its smaller Boeing 737s and 50 for the larger ones. “If you can collect up enough of these minutes in each turn, then you can start to squeeze out some more flying,’’ says Southwest’s COO.

Research shows boarding bottlenecks are the biggest detriment to turnaround times. Delays in seconds between passengers finding their seats, or sitting in the wrong seat, add up fast. Southwest is testing 11 concepts at four gates at the Atlanta airport. Signs tell passengers they are entering an “innovation zone.’’ The Atlanta project is a big component of Southwest’s 5-minute quest, with goals of saving 2-3 minutes on boarding per flight. Southwest hopes the rest of the time savings can come from efforts including bigger overhead bins, a possible increase in boarding planes from the front and back simultaneously, and paperless takeoff documents.

One of the biggest changes: The stanchions where passengers line up to board have video monitors. They display a boarding countdown, an alert when important announcements are being made and flashing lights when boarding begins. Southwest is also testing a designated preboarding area for passengers in wheelchairs and families boarding together, a staging area it hopes will reduce gate crowding. It went so far as to test different carpet colors for each area—yellow is out because it showed stains.

Southwest brought music to the jet bridge because the team’s research found people move faster to up-tempo music. Preliminary results show the music and prerecorded jet bridge announcements about bin space, seat availability and other information are helping. They answer the questions flight attendants say they hear over and over again during boarding.

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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