Loading an Airliner Is Rocket Science

Last night I came across an interesting article from 2006 in the New York Times exploring how airlines handle passenger boarding. Lots of different designs:

Mathematicians would revel in the intricacies of the new boarding techniques. There is the outside-in technique, nicknamed Wilma, for window first, then middle and then aisle, a technique favored by Delta and United. And there is the sort of nonsystem system pioneered by Southwest Airlines in which passengers board in the order they arrive.

Among the reformers, US Airways can lay claim to one of the most complex procedures. It is basically Wilma, with seats filled in a pattern as intricate as a microchip’s circuitry: rear window and middle first, front window and middle next, followed by rear aisle, then front aisle. The airline calls it the reverse pyramid system, but it might be better described as a V-shaped sequence that operates by zones.

It’s interesting to see the system design that underlies the service, where an extra five minutes in boarding can cost millions of dollars to accommodate.


  1. Budget airlines in the UK a different method. Customers aren’t assigned seats, so everyone rushes to be the first on the plane to get the “best” seats.

    This is horrible from a CX perspective but apparently it gets people onto the planes very quickly.




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