Hacking the plane boarding process

I’m not usually a person of absolutes, however after many business and personal flights, I’ve come to the conclusion there is a more efficient and better way to load passengers on a plane. Maybe there is an airline out there doing it and I haven’t experienced it yet, however all of the flights I’ve taken from many different airlines and airports seem to use the same method that was implemented not long after the Wright brothers started flying. It goes something like this…

Everyone sits around in the terminal waiting for the announcement that the plane is now taking passengers, once the announcement is made, we have movement. Priority is given to airline club members, sometimes also those in need of assistance or with children. Then sometimes people in certain rows may be called first, with a poor effort of a line being formed, resembling something like a crowd of people at a bar jostling for first drinks.

What actually happens is an existing problem (passenger congestion in the terminal) is moved or worsened along the process, into the plane. This is when the fun starts, you have people in seats next to the isle, people trying to get into their window seats, passengers boarding via the front door walking through the plane and people struggling for places to put their luggage. Passengers are generally already keen to travel, tired, frustrated and getting up and down, moving in & out of their seats just adds to their frustrations. This system is ripe for hacking and innovation.

Implementing any new process or system change needs planning, effective communication and importantly an explanation of the “why” to develop engagement, commitment and sustained behavioural change. This is achieved through targeting the attitudes of those involved. Through providing the “why” for the change and consulting on the impact of the change, people will think and feel about the change more positively and with greater acceptance.

The opportunity is to implement a much smoother, quicker and enjoyable passenger boarding process, which will also reduce the airline cost and plane turnaround time.

For smaller planes (737-800) with two columns of seats…

  • If boarding by the front and rear doors, the first step would be passengers in window seats in the middle of plane board first. If boarding via the front doors only, then the passengers seated at the rear of the plane board first.
  • Then all other passengers are asked to board, with the critical change being passengers with window seats to board and sit down first.
  • Then to help the process, passengers board in ascending row numbers for the rear stairs and descending for the front stairs from the middle.

For larger planes, like the A380, with 3 columns of seats, it would be a similar process with the critical change still being window seat passengers are called to board first, with the addition of passengers sitting in seats in the middle of centre column also boarding with them.

Jason Steffen also conducted some research into the optimal method to board passengers that was published in the Journal of Air Transport Management, where he identified also a method that parallelises the boarding process rather than serialising it.

Waiting” is part of the 7 streams of waste identified and reduced through implementing Lean processes. These streams are… Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-processing, Over-production, Defects or TIMWOOD for short. Lean strategies, can be implemented in any process, with one of the key aims of reducing waste, which saves time & reduces money and rework and improves quality.

Implementing lean tools in manufacturing and scheduling processes reduce “waiting” waste, streamlining the process, saving time and money and could also be applied to the passenger boarding process.    

While there is always the possibility of passengers running late, the structure of this process would provide the flexibility to handle this occurrences. This revised process would make travel easier, more relaxed and faster for the passengers and airline staff.

Some things to consider when hacking (improving) systems in your organisation…

  • Where in your systems are you moving a bottleneck along in your process and adding waste?
  • Where could you reduce “waiting” and therefore costs in your processes?
  • When implementing any process change, ensure you engage everyone through effectively communicating the “why” not just the “how”
  • How could you make your customer experience more enjoyable?
  • And lastly, how great would it be to board your next plane through this streamlined process?

Contact us at Inspire My Business for a chat and find out how you can hack your business processes, making life easier and leaner!

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