Airline Follies

Manned flight is more than a century old. Why are the airlines still so clueless?

Michael O’Hare wins Quote of the Day honors twice in the same very short post:

One of my dreams is to meet the nitwit who thought a good way to load an airplane through a door at the front is front seats first. If things go well, it will be on an airplane, and I will have a heavy carry-on with sharp corners, which I will drop on his toes. Indeed, I will be so distracted apologizing while I pick it up, I will probably drop it on his other foot.

and

[H]as any other such wonderful technology ever been in the hands of such nincompoops?

It does boggle the mind.   On a short flight, it quite literally takes more time to board the damn plane than from wheels up to wheels down.   And it simply shouldn’t.  But they start absurdly early and then board seemingly randomly, with the people in First Class, with small children, and with various mileage rewards status points to board ahead of the people in back of the plane.   This slows down everyone else’s boarding, results in overhead bins being filled inefficiently and thus people trying to fight their way back through other passengers to get back to the front, and other nonsense.

It’s not like we haven’t been loading planes for going on a century now.  How hard is it to figure out how to get people on board quickly?

UPDATEKevin Drum is on the warpath, too.

(1) Airlines spent years hassling customers about their carry-on bags and persuading them to check their luggage instead. (2) After that finally started to work, they suddenly began charging for checked luggage. (3) As customers scurried to adapt once again, overhead space disappeared. (4) So now they begin charging for early boarding to avoid the crush of bags in the overhead bin.

Has there ever before been an industry that’s so actively tried to piss off their entire customer base? You almost have to admire it in a Bizarro-capitalism kind of way.

Almost.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. “Has there ever before been an industry that’s so actively tried to piss off their entire customer base?”

    Only the recording industry.

  2. MstrB says:

    I gave up figuring out airline boarding, I had a trip traveling with the wife and two kids where despite sitting in the back of the plane they split us between the last two groups to board and the solution to not being in the same boarding group was to wait till the last group. Needless to say a few people got hit by the car seats I was lugging to the back of the plane.

  3. Franklin says:

    What I don’t get is why people in First Class, people with children, and people with mileage rewards WANT to get on first. I always attempt to be roughly the last person on; it’s simply less time on the stuffy plane. Not to mention less time for the kids to get bored, less time sitting in your seat while people drop baggage on your head and climb over you, etc.

    /yeah, yeah, you don’t get your choice in storage – the ONLY negative I can think of

  4. James Joyner says:

    What I don’t get is why people in First Class, people with children, and people with mileage rewards WANT to get on first.

    In the case of First Class, it’s booze. Or getting some work done. But those are really only possible if the boarding is from to the aft of the First Class section. If everyone else is stumbling over you, it’s hard to do either.

    In the case of traveling with very small children — my only experience thus far — it’s to get the car seat and whatnot situated.

    And, yes, getting to use the storage bins before the a-holes who brought too much stuff aboard or were too lazy to drag it to the back of the plane and therefore took the space over your seat is a huge bonus for those with kids or not checking bags.

  5. Westcliff says:

    I have rarely found the passengers in first class to be the hassle when boarding — in my experience the attendants board them sufficiently far in advance that they are all seated (and may even have a drink in hand) by the time I get to board in coach.

    As for boarding strategies, if you think that planes should board from the back to the front — studies and computer modeling have shown that to be one of the slowest methods of loading an airplane. Think about it — boarding 5 contiguous rows at once, 30 or so people all trying to squeeze into the same small space at the same time. Same problem with a rotating zone method.

    Systems like “outside in” (window seats first, then middle, then aisle) and “reverse pyramid” (a combination of outside-in and the old back-to-front) have been shown to be among the more efficient, and some airlines have used them, sadly the two airlines I fly the most do not. Of course, those systems require greater cooperation from passengers, since it will frequently split up couples or families traveling together in adjacent seats.

    The folks with seats in the back who put their bags in the front overhead bins are the ones who really piss me off, though. I raised a stink about it once, and actually managed to persuade a flight attendant to move that person’s bag, instead of my smaller one, down to checked luggage because there wasn’t any room left in the overhead bins.

  6. Franklin says:

    In the case of First Class, it’s booze.

    Enough said.

    In the case of traveling with very small children — my only experience thus far — it’s to get the car seat and whatnot situated.

    Ahh, yes, I’ve avoided this issue. We have, thus far, either 1) visited family and friends who already have a spare car seat and who are kind enough to pick us up at the airport, or 2) rented one with a car (rather expensive).

  7. JKB says:

    I think your forgetting that they have to make First Class seem way better than 2nd, 3rd or steerage class. Either that is by providing opulent accommodations or by making the other classes progressively less comfortable. Everyone is receiving the same basic service, transportation from a to b the only difference in pricing is how miserable they make you. Beyond larger seats, that is all governed by priority and service. Airlines didn’t start this, it started with the first horse drawn coach capable of providing different experiences to people in close proximity. Long ago, I read an academic paper that investigated this.

    Question: Do airlines that don’t have privileged classes load faster?

  8. tom p says:

    Thanx James, I am going to Spain in 3 weeks (my 5th trip by air in my entire life)… Now I get to anticipate these little joys from now till then.

    You’re a real peach.