Home Business How the airline boarding process became such a mess

How the airline boarding process became such a mess

by Mark Mendoza

Boarding a flight has become a chaotic and frustrating process, designed by airlines to generate more revenue. Passengers often crowd the gate queue and line up out of turn, causing confusion and bottlenecks. Once on the plane, passengers are met with long lines on the jet bridge and cramped conditions in the aisles. According to travel industry expert Henry Harteveldt, “boarding a plane is the 21st-century version of Lord of the Flies.”

This disorderly boarding process is not accidental. Airlines have recognized that they can make even more money by offering priority boarding for a fee. The tension between marketing teams focused on maximizing revenue and operations teams wanting efficiency has resulted in a boarding process that benefits only those willing to pay extra. Furthermore, larger planes, increased bookings, and reduced gate agents have contributed to the chaos.

The introduction of bag fees in 2008 played a significant role in making boarding more complicated. Passengers began carrying on more bags to avoid paying fees, and airlines discovered they could profit from selling overhead bin space to those willing to pay for early boarding. Airlines also started offering credit cards, frequent flyer programs, and loyalty programs, further segmenting passengers and slowing down the boarding process.

The airline industry’s pursuit of profitability has also impacted boarding. Larger planes and denser seating mean more passengers and less space. Flights are more frequently packed, making boarding even more time-consuming. Airlines have attempted various boarding strategies, but none have proven to be highly efficient.

There is a boarding method known as the Steffen Method that could significantly cut boarding time. This method allows several rows of passengers to store their luggage simultaneously. However, it requires strict quality control and interferes with boarding based on passenger status, making it unlikely to be implemented by airlines.

If airlines truly wanted to speed up boarding, they could make it free to check bags, reduce the number of boarding zones, and switch to open seating. Southwest Airlines, which allows passengers to claim the first available seat, has the fastest boarding process among major airlines. However, airlines are reluctant to adopt this model as it would mean giving up revenue from seat assignments.

In conclusion, the boarding process for flights has become a frustrating experience due to deliberate design choices made by airlines. While there are potential solutions to make boarding more efficient, airlines prioritize revenue generation and passenger segmentation over passenger convenience. As a result, boarding a plane will likely remain a chaotic and disorderly experience, unless passengers are willing to pay for a smoother process.

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