Boarding Time

October 31, 2011

The NY Times today published an article about the efforts
airlines are making to get planes boarded in less time.

Certainly boarding a plane is one of the most stressful
parts of an already fraught experience. You have already gotten up at a
ridiculous hour, driven in lousy traffic to the airport, lined up for parking,
lined up for the shuttle bus, lined up for check in, lined up to be scanned and
groped (to no purpose, we know) lined up for overpriced coffee, and now let’s
all line up again to get on the wretched flying cattle truck.

One of the most obvious things about this moment in mass
transport is the lack of clear and timely information. The confused folk
milling around the gate do not know what they are expected to do. The gate
crews are forced to use the really old fashioned and ineffective loudspeaker
system to announce what is going on, with predicable results. “What did she
say?” is the most common overheard phrase, followed by “Who is boarding now?”

The attempts by some airlines to use display
screens to show who is actually boarding now and who is next have been next to
useless because one would have to stand within six feet of the tiny screens and
on someone’s shoulders to actually read and understand the messages.

The solution is to have large, easily legible
screens that have genuine and instant information. Add the audible
announcements using a speaker system that really works and you may have a more
efficient gate control procedure.

Quite a few airports around the country have spent millions
of dollars upgrading their parking lots, their concourses, their shopping
malls, their bathrooms, everything but the feature that would increase
efficiency, wider and double jetways.
Sure they are expensive, but so were all the other features that do
nothing for efficiency. Of course it would not matter how many jetways could be
latched onto a jetliner it won’t reduce the number of occasions when the ground
crew seem taken aback by our arrival. You were expecting us, right? Or did our Captain
forget to call ahead?

Once on the plane the problem is of course the daft design
of these aerial aluminium anxiety chambers. These machines are not designed for
people. They are designed for airline profit. Without going into the hideously
uncomfortable seats, and the toilets meant for midget contortionists, I will
point out that the aisles are far too narrow, and far too long. What chumps
decided that you only need one aisle and one boarding door for a plane as long
as a Boeing 767? Not even the buses in India have this dopey layout. The
overhead bins are not too small, but people’s idea of a carryon is a
revelation. Just enforce the size rule. Why is that so hard?

The solutions are easily identified. The passengers will end
up paying for them. How can this be done whilst increasing the salaries and bonuses
of the top executives of the company is the only thing that will actually get
discussed.

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