I just finished a busy round of business travel and I've noticed these past few weeks that airlines have increased the amount of time boarding begins before departure. Why does it take 40 minutes to load a 737-300 now?
Great Lakes Airlines now starts boarding 30 minutes before scheduled departure for the Beech 1900's. That seems excessive. Ten minutes before boarding all 19 of us passengers were on board and ready to get, but we had to sit for another 20 minutes before we actually left the gate. The last time I flew Great Lakes was back in late 2002 and they boarded 15 minutes before departure. And that was still plenty of time.
United seems to do a 40 minute boarding regardless of the aircraft type. It wasn't that long ago it was 30 minutes and we had about a 50/50 chance of actually leaving on time. I'm afraid with the new 40 minute boarding time people are going to take their candy-ass sweet time even more now.
So why are boarding times increasing again??
My father works for American Airlines and he used to bring home Boeing magazines and publications. I remember reading about a study Boeing did about why boarding times are increasing (I also remember their study on electronic interference that I wished I had saved the article). Boeing noted that in the 1970's through 1980's it would take on average about 17 minutes to load a DC-8. Since 1990, that time has doubled despite the fact aircraft haven't gotten much bigger. Boeing ran all kinds of simulations and tests with people in cabin mock-ups. They varied the order in which people boarded the plane, people with window seats first, aisle seats last, and etc. They didn't allow a volunteer to do the test more than twice because they didn't want to skew the results.
What did Boeing conclude? Boarding times have not increased because changes in the gate areas, aircraft, or other equipment. They conclued the increased boarding times were due to "Human Behavior Factors". In other words people didn't do what they were asked to do (board only when their row was called) and people would often impede the boarding process because of their luggage (taken two steps into the aircraft and stuffing their many bags in the overhead bin, then proceeding to the rear of the aircraft).
This study was done in the late 1990's and Boeing concluded that there was nothing they could do to decrease boarding times from an aircraft design point of view. Boarding times have increased again. What can be done about it?
As a frequent traveler, I'd like to see the following:
(1) People take less stuff on the aircraft or have the carry on bag policies enforced by the airline. I think this is the number 1 problem...people trying to carry too much shit on the aircraft. Airlines are afraid to do anything about it because they don't want to upset the customers. These people block the aisle for far too long of a time because they are trying to cram everything in the bins rather than use the underseat storage.
(2) The gate agents need to enforce the boarding order. How many times have you seen everyone jump up when the first boarding group is called? Again, the airline (gate agents) need to grow a spine and not board the people when their row hasn't been called. At LAX
last month, I overheard two guys about to get on my United flight say "We can board whenever we want...what are they going to do about it?" I wanted to say something to them, but I didn't. It seems like everyone else had the same idea. When seating area 1 was called, I could see a lot of seating area 3's and 4's immediately get on the plane. Because the gate agents didn't stop them there was a major log jam in the aisle of the plane.
(3) People need to take their assigned seats. Several times last month on my flight somebody would just plop down in a seat that wasn't assigned to them (usually because they knew they were assigned a worse seat). When the person who actually is supposed to sit there comes on board, there is this delay of several minutes while everyone tries to reshuffle/backup the boarding line due to one idiot.
It's probably going to get worse before it gets better...
A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man...