As meeting season has resumed after the holiday break, I’m sure many of you are reading this while stuck in that pit of despair better known as an “airport”, waiting to get on your flight. A recent study showed that letting slower passengers (like those with small children) board the plane first is indeed faster than mixing them in with regular (faster moving) fliers. Essentially, slow movers block the aisle, so it’s better to get them out of the way so traffic is not impeded when the majority of passengers board.
The study is one in a long-running series of attempts by physicists and mathematicians to understand this seemingly intractable problem. Any efficient method is hampered by the economic incentives airlines offer to those willing to spend more to purchase first class seats and to reward frequent fliers. The desire not to split up families or groups traveling together when boarding adds further complications.
The video below offers an entertaining explainer of how this all works, and the conclusion that doing nothing and letting people board randomly would be faster than the systems employed by many airlines.