Broadband, Net Neutrality and airplane boarding: industries' love affair with stupid


Not really on-topic, but the huge glaring hole in that airline boarding algorithm is that a plane is not filled entirely with solitary travellers - families with children, and school/youth group trips with a limited number of responsible adults would be completely unable to comply with this boarding order from what I gather from the article.


If you can just resist the temptation to join the human herd for flights for which you have a seat assignment, you will feel much less pain than if you are standing there like an idiot for 10 minutes wedged into the aisle waiting for someone 20 rows down to sort out their baggage and get comfortable. That’s assuming you don’t need to compete for luggage space yourself, of course. But if you can just carry a laptop or underseat bag with you, you can just sit there comfortably in the terminal waiting area for the 10 or 15 minutes it takes everyone else to anxiously swarm through the gate and jam up the aisles in the airplane.

It’s a much less irritating experience if you can manage to take yourself in hand and realize there is no good reason to compete for a place in line to get on a vehicle you will not much enjoy riding in anyway.


When travelling on business and sitting up front, I like to board early to sit comfortably with my warm nuts cradled gently in one hand and watch the expression of those heading to the back of the plane as they pass by. Of course, if I am paying for the flight and therefore sitting down the back, I just relax, and board last and avoid all the queueing and jostling. I try to avoid catching the eye of those with warm nuts as I pass by.


This simulation is so far afield from reality as to be almost useless. Nowhere on the video do we see any of the following: frustrated mom holding up the entire boarding process while bickering with her husband and child as to how best to load up their “aisle”. Upset business traveler who is angry that someone from row 27 has filled up the overhead compartment over his seat, row 10. He is going nowhere until he voices displeasure and asks the FA to get involved. Ordinary traveler who is busy unloading three electronic devices, several books and a tuna wrap sandwich from their laptop bag. Oh, and in the simulation portrayed in the video only about 1/4 of the people put stuff in the overhead compartment. That percentage in real life is closer to 70% .

And as someone who spends 50% of their time up front I can tell you that nobody ever gets hot nuts before the plane is in air, wheels up, and the fasten seatbelt lite is switched off. The best you get is a drink, and only half the time is it the drink of your choice. Besides, the folks in first are the most adept at the boarding process. They walk on the plane, drop their stuff off in overhead, sit down and STFU.


But Virgin Airlines is the coolest and hippest, Right?

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Cory, Think.

I presume you are comfortable thinking of airline executives as greedy. Then why would they not grab all that easy money to be made from a more efficient boarding procedure?

Here’s the reality: airlines hire people whose sole job is to improve the boarding process. Southwest, United, and American all conduct actual experiments to improve the boarding process for the obvious reason: they’re greedy. They want to make more money. and, indeed, boarding processes have gotten much more efficient across my lifetime. Southwest is generally considered the best in the business at these “turn around” procedures, so I suggest you study their methods rather blindly trust a single research simulation.


Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait: WARM nuts? Eww.


I recently watched the TED talk showing off the papercraft microscope. And I had to wonder, how has it taken this long for something this elegant to show up on the scene? It could easily have been invented 50 years ago. It’s all just social inertia. And if the rich people who really matter can keep getting richer, then wy change anything? A better moustrap only succeeds when there’s actual competition.

OK, as a former school principal, I have frequently reflected on the stupidity of how planes are boarded. Let’s get reasonable, rather than segregated by ticket cost or whatever. The plane should be boarded from the back to the front - just as a school bus is boarded for field trips. Obviously, there would be a bit of a learning curve, but soon everyone would arrive in time to make this feasible. After all, if I were ever to fly first class (not likely, given that I am a former school principal), I would prefer to have LESS time on the plane rather than more. I would prefer not to encounter all the people bumping their way past me. Just a thought.


Plus the big mob of people that all crowd the gate even though their group hasn’t been called, so even if it is your time you can’t get there anyway.

People really care more about boarding airplanes than net neutrality.

Does anyone actually pay more money just for priority boarding? It usually comes bundled with something worthwhile, like more legroom. Also, I submit that even if you had super efficient boarding, they’d still bundle this perk with other stuff so they’d still be “making money” from it. The whole premise here seems faulty.

Net neutrality is much more obvious - I choke Netflix until someone pays me. Now I choke your email. Now I choke your shopping. Pay me pay me pay me.

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I’m 100% in favor of net neutrality (much more important than boarding practices!) and class distinctions in air travel have gone to some questionable places, but Cory’s claim about airlines is embarrassingly half-baked.

In particular, if all of the purported “stupid” is there to benefit the business/first class passengers (who are a minority on any flight–United has A320s with six business-class seats in the front out of 138 total), any airline–even a global monopoly!–would let the hoity-toity [or free-upgraded] passengers board first (or whenever they showed up) and seat the remaining passengers using the most efficient method they can. Planes burn fuel in the air and money on the ground.

And oh, that Jason Steffan study–and I say this as a system dynamics modeler by training–is a facepalm. It’s the Bob Figures It Out of time-motion studies.

In addition to the many good points in this thread, consider how much coordination it would require at the boarding gate. Southwest (which has no first class on its flights, so its only goal when boarding is to speed up turnaround and minimize frustration) sorts people into three sets, then subgroups by five–and has NO ASSIGNED SEATS. [All you can do is get a seat near the front for $40]. I suspect that’s a pretty good proxy for the complexity limit from the passenger perspective.

The Steffan scheme has much more sorting and requires assigned seats. What do you do? Wait for everyone to come to the gate, then map seats to numerical indexes and teach them the bubble sort dance? Call out seats like at a damn deli and wait for people to gather their luggage together and elbow past each other in an angry crowd, each time?

Southwest’s method may not be the be-all end-all, but I suspect that they’ve spent a lot of time and thought on doing a good job. And (again) they’re eliminating assigned seats, which may people like (and which some people effectively need).

No disciplinary offense meant, but I’m told that astrophysicists consider order-of-magnitude errors to be right on…


I’m not sure I agree that all airplane boarding is ‘stupid’. Every time I fly, it works like this:
• First, people with boarding difficulties and kids who need assistance board. This is maybe one or two people, so that goes quickly.
• Then first-class boards, which is a half dozen or so people on an average 737. This goes quickly as well, because they’re seasoned flyers and just pop on board, right up front.
• Priority seating/platinum goes next, which is also pretty quick.
• Then they start boarding by zones, from the rear forward. This is exactly the way it should be done, and works fine in theory, except for people who don’t listen for their zone.

So it seems to me that the ‘stupid’ involved here isn’t airline foolishness, but customer behavior you can’t build fancy models around: people doing dumb stuff that slows down other people.

At least Cory didn’t call it ‘woo’.


I’m just really hoping you’re talking about peanuts.

This is science woo. “Somebody did a Monte Carlo study. It is Known.”


Almost nobody travels like this. Most airlines charge for checked baggage, but not for carry-on. The result is that the majority of passengers (especially on larger flights) try to maximize their carry-on volume, so overhead space runs out very quickly.

Thus, boarding order actually matters quite a bit to many travelers (including me).

Anyway, wasn’t this article supposed to be about net neutrality? What’s up with all the commentary on flying?


Everyone mentions that the first-class folks are seasoned flyers.

But then they complain that they are rich jerks.

The former is far truer than the latter, I discovered when I started travelling all the time for work.

Sure, they most may be decently well off, but not what you’d call Rich People. Most of the people in most of the first-class seats got there on Status. Back when I accumulated about 75k miles in a year, I thought I was pretty hot stuff (it took a while, since I mostly flew domestic). But, even so, on usual “Business Traveler” type flights (think Monday morning, Sunday evening), I’d be number 25 or 30 in line for a first-class seat upgrade.

There’s almost never a flight that flies without first class filled for this reason.

Which brings me to my next point…

How much do airlines make based on Rewards programs that will get you upgraded? Sure, the first class folks make up a small percentage of the flight. But by offering those upgrades, and all the perks that go with them (yes, yes, including early boarding), they are buying repeat customers who will fly many, many more times than the rest of the plane, to rack up those miles, to be #3 on the list instead of 30. When you travel that much, you do everything for the points–just like in “Up in the Air”.

Just some food for thought on why the airlines might willingly forgo more sane boarding practices.

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At least there’s a reasonable motivation there competing for carry on space. What baffles me is the people who insist on standing in the aisles for deboarding,no matter how long it takes to attach the jetway and everyone in front of them leave. My last flight I had a clown in the window seat insist on climbing over comfortably seated me so he could stand in the aisle going nowhere.

I guess no one’s commenting about net neutrality because it’s so obviously right, the carriers are so obviously evil, and we’re so powerless in the hands of the corps that own the Govt. There’s just not much to say that’s new, or even interesting. I guess that’s why religions have liturgy, after thousands of years there’s not much new to say on the subject.

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For passengers, though, this makes no sense. Most of us are waiting in line longer than necessary, and those who pay extra are sitting on planes longer than necessary.

Yep, we’re irrational and want things that are bad for us. I have to use all my Vulcan mind-tricks to convince myself to be calm and wait during boarding. Somehow I always feels I will be making more progress if I just push like hell til I’m on the plane.