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Will American Airlines’ New Boarding Method Save Time or Create Chaos?

John Moore, Getty Images

For about a decade, airlines and academics have tried to figure out the fastest way to load passengers onto a plane. The less time spent on boarding, the more revenue-generating flights airlines can squeeze into a day. In fact, according to a 2008 study in the Journal of Transport Management, every minute cut on boarding can save $30 per flight.

Now American Airlines is trying out a new boarding method, and reaction is mixed.

Instead of boarding passengers from the back of the plane to the front, American is boarding people in the order in which they checked in for the flight — regardless of where they’re seated, although first-class passengers and others needing priority boarding will still go first.

It’s called the “random” seating method, and American says it saves time because it minimizes the standstill that occurs when people in the same row try to get to their seats at the same time. The airline says studies have shown this method reduces boarding times five-to-ten percent.

Flight attendants disagree, complaining the process has created “complete chaos” among passengers, leading to more time spent preparing the plane for takeoff — time for which they are not paid.

American isn’t the first to test out the controversial new seating method. Alaska Airlines also tried — and later discarded– the system. “Our data confirms that pure random boarding is faster,” said Sandy Stelling, Alaska Airlines’ managing director of airport services. “However, we determined the negative impact, measured by our customers […] was not worth the small gain in time.”

[Los Angeles Times]

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