Boarding a plane is like joining an assault course that demands you trample old people and bat small children out of the way you with your bare fists. Possibly. But perhaps not for much longer, because a Chinese mathematician claims to have found a far more efficient way to board an aeroplane.
Airlines usually opt for one of two systems: the much-feared free-for-all or the yawn-some assigned seating. Researcher Dr Tie-Qiao Tang, however, claims there's a third way:
"Each passenger has their own individual properties. For example, each passenger's luggage has a different attribution and thus has different influences on boarding behaviour; the time that the passenger's ticket is checked at the gate is different; the time that the passenger deals with his or her carried luggage is different; seat conflicts have different effects on the passenger. Each passenger has a different optimal speed, maximum speed and safe distance."
Essentially, what he's claiming here is that airlines could, in theory at least, assign seat numbers based on data about their customers — their typical boarding speed, luggage they're carrying, that kind of thing. In fact, during simulations his technique was the most efficient of the three, beating allocated seating by a mile and leaving the free-for-all, unsurprisingly, in a coughing heap somewhere in the distance.
Putting the theory into practice, however, is a tougher nut to crack — but not an impossible one. Airlines could easily work out how carry-on luggage correlates with boarding speed and just add an extra weigh-in to factor how it affects seat allocation, for instance, while walking speed could be guesstimated as a function of age. How well that would work though is another question entirely.
Add to the mix that it would mean that airlines would have to actively profile their customers — something many people wouldn't be too happy with — and it has its fair share of problems. But let's face it: it's gotta be better than the current state of things. [Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies via Science Network]