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Herd behavior at the gate

Numerous studies have been made of the boarding process. Not only airlines have looked at possibilities for improvements, but also scientists. Interestingly, many carriers change the boarding processes every now and then, but they never really improve it.

Passengers in economy class have very little personal space and can hardly move and breathe once they have squeezed themselves into narrow seats. They have also hardly legroom due to the very short pitch (distance between rows). Thus, one would expect that passengers would prefer to board as late as possible.

Early boarding

However, practice shows the reverse. Quite a few flyers are even willing to pay a fee for early boarding. Their motivation is often that they have a lot of carry-on luggage, which saves them checked bag fees. If they are the first to reach an overhead bin, it will still offer space for their carry-ons.

But this does not further an efficient boarding process, which is basically quite simple. It just requires that a plane be filled from the back to the front and from windows to the aisle. Thus, passengers with window seats in the last row should board first.

Carriers undoubtedly know this, but for commercial reasons they prefer a boarding order based on what passengers paid for their tickets, their travel class, and their loyalty program status.

Feeling important

Obviously, carriers consider it important to give those passengers a feeling of being more important than other flyers. But as long as airlines stick to this policy, boarding will never become efficient.

Preboarding is necessary for certain passengers including people with physical limitations and travelers with toddlers. Airlines understand that and have made preboarding a standard part of the boarding process.

On September 18, 2018 United Airlines introduced the umpteenth "new" boarding process that is as inefficient as all previous boarding procedures. So far, no carrier has ever implemented an efficient boarding process as outlined above (from the back to the front and from windows to the aisle).

The reason is that airlines want to give priority to passengers contributing more to their profits - by buying more and more expensive tickets - than occasional flyers.

Improving boarding areas

United also claims to improve the boarding areas by adding space, sending text messages about when to go to the gate, and adding digital displays showing updated boarding information. However, we do not expect that passengers' behavior in gate areas will change.

As soon as the first - usually inexperienced - flyer takes a position at the gate entrance, others will follow and the entrance will soon be blocked. The gate is typically an area where people demonstrate herd behavior.

Tags: herd behavior, boarding process, overhead bins, carry-on luggage

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