This Is The Best Way To Board A Plane

Boarding is one of the more stressful parts of a plane journey. The current ways most airlines board their planes leave a lot to be desired when it comes to efficiency. But there are some options which could make the whole process a lot easier.

Boarding Easyjet A319-100 (G-EZAV) at Palma Airport, Majorca, for the flight to Bristol, England.
Some boarding methods are better than others. Photo: Adrian Pingstone via Wikimedia Commons

The efficiency of the plane boarding process is something people have put a lot of time and thought into perfecting. Some airlines and airports have even unveiled biometric boarding systems to make the process that bit easier.

There are lots of different ways we could tackle the inefficiencies of the standard, pretty much random method most of us are used to. It could save us a lot of time and stress, but let’s start with the drawbacks of filling a plane using a random filling order.

Random boarding

Random boarding is a common method used by low-cost carriers. Although it can be stressful and may seem disorganized, it isn’t the worst boarding method out there. This is because the random ordering of passengers is actually advantageous when it comes to filling up seats in different areas of the aircraft simultaneously.

It’s even better when boarding an aircraft with a front and a back door. Separating the passengers into front and back random boarding groups allows passengers to pile in through two entrances at the same time.

Passengers with priority boarding get to board first, but it doesn’t make too much difference as they board in a random order too.

Passenger on board Ryanair airplane
Bag stowage is the biggest cause of boarding delays. Photo: Marco Verch via Flickr

Back to front boarding

Assigning passengers to boarding groups using the back to front method is much more common when boarding larger aircraft. Having to wait for other passengers to stow their bags, and to a lesser extent squeeze past their aisle mates, is the main cause of delay when boarding a flight.

As a result, the back to front boarding method, even though more organized than random boarding, is actually more time consuming overall. Because passengers file into the aircraft in the back to front order, everyone has to wait for the people in front of them to stow their bags and sit down before they can access their own seat.

At least with random boarding, passengers can fill rows in different parts of the aircraft simultaneously.

The Steffen method

As pointed out by CGP Grey in one of his videos earlier this year, there actually is a perfect aircraft boarding method out there.

The Steffen method, which was devised by an American astrophysicist named Jason Steffen, achieves optimum boarding efficiency by assigning all passengers their own exact boarding number. Every passenger must be in the right order for the method to work as efficiently as possible.

People boarding a plane
Perfection is hard to come by in reality. Photo: Bradley Gordon via Flickr

Under the Steffen method, passengers board back to front, on alternating rows, on alternating sides from the windows in. This specific order minimizes delays caused by other passengers stowing their bags.

Unfortunately, assigning everyone their own specific place in the boarding line wouldn’t really work, mainly because it temporarily separates people from family or friends they would end up sitting next to.

Although the Steffen method is an interesting concept, it isn’t that applicable to the real world.