Let's redesign the boarding process so it actually works

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Travel' started by LarryInNYC, Oct 12, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. LarryInNYC

    LarryInNYC Gold Member

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    There's another post elsewhere on Milepoint about why so much animus is directed at people who cluster around the boarding lanes, that animus showing itself in the term "Gate Lice". That post is here:
    Gate Lice And The Associated Loathing...


    This is not a re-hash of that post. Instead, let's develop the conversation that grew out of that discussion about how the boarding process could be redesigned to make it more effective.

    I'm starting from the following premises:
    1. The boarding process will only be effective if the rules are enforced and it's my impression that agents rarely turn back customers boarding out of order.
    2. The current system is not easily enforceable since it doesn't really work to detect line jumpers at the scanner when it's difficult to turn them away.
    3. The current system does not have adequate separate between the lounge area and the boarding area so that the area at the entrance to the boarding lanes is seen by most people as part of the lounge, not part of the operational boarding area.
    4. The current system is actually too difficult for most infrequent fliers to understand (they probably have trouble finding their flight number let alone the zone number) and too difficult for agents to enforce (since they can't see who on line is supposed to be there).
    In other words, it's not surprising that people wind up clustered around the boarding gate.
    Here's what I think could be done to redesign the system:
    1. Boarding passes should be color-coded by zone so that it's easier for people to understand which groups are boarding and easier for gate agents (and everyone else, for that matter) to tell when people are jumping the line. Print-at-home boarding passes may be from non-color printers — the color name could be included in the color bar (so a b/w printout of a "green" zone pass would say GREEN in the printed-as-black bar) or another coding system (animals, sports teams) could be used.
    2. In addition to just announcements, which many people don't catch or understand, the lanes should have monitors over them that show what color can use that lane at any given time (similar to the Whole Foods checkout system).
    3. Non-boarding color codes could be directed to waiting areas so that everyone with an orange pass should clearly be standing in one particular area to be ready for their turn.
    4. The different boarding lanes should have separate entrances. Perhaps the priority lane should be routed behind the gate desk, or perhaps the gate area needs a more substantial redesign.
    5. It should not be possible to cluster around the entrance to the boarding lane. Perhaps these areas should be cordoned off and then opened only to people with the correct color boarding pass (with an agent pre-checking at the entrance to this holding area).
     
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  2. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    The current system is overly complicated and inefficient specifically because it caters to elites. Using colors, animals or sports teams is no different than the inch tall zone number currently used. People simply don't care to pay attention so they ignore it.

    Anything else will require far too much in the way of staffing to support and enforce. Or way more space in the terminals, space which doesn't exist. Don't hold your breath.
     
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  3. ConsultingChris

    ConsultingChris Silver Member

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    I disagree that "anything else" will require far too much in the way of staffing to support and enforce and is quite an uninformed answer. This type of problem has been studied in queuing theory/operations research circles for some time.

    Some examples of just a few can be seen in the references at: http://menkes76.com/projects/boarding/boarding.htm
     
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  4. LarryInNYC

    LarryInNYC Gold Member

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    I would bet that some percentage of travelers simply aren't aware of the system. Sure, some people are simply jumping the line but others are probably genuinely clueless.

    One nice thing about the color-coded system is it's at least partially self-enforcing. I think a lot of people would be deterred from line jumping if they knew that everyone around them knew they were line jumping.
     
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  5. IDGflygirl
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    IDGflygirl Gold Member

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    IME on WN, everyone can see if one has an 'A' or 'B' boarding position, and then there is the 'self-policing' w/in the numbered posts!;)
     
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  6. ConsultingChris

    ConsultingChris Silver Member

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    WN's boarding procedures make for a usually quick boarding, but research shows that random boarding has the potential for the quickest boarding. However, even with a random system, you would still get people lining up (doubly true if they are British).

    The best way to prevent gate lice and enforce random boarding is to have a series of doors around the waiting area that all go to the gates and when it is time to board, direct people to the right door and gate only when it is time to board. That way people wouldn't know when or where to congregate.
     
  7. IDGflygirl
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    IDGflygirl Gold Member

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    don't understand how 'extra' doors are going to become available in these crowded gate areas where there already closely scheduled flts departing from adjacent gates!:confused:
     
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  8. ConsultingChris

    ConsultingChris Silver Member

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    I was getting into crazy idea land on that one. In many airports it wouldn't work, but I have been in a few that have a series of overlapping gates where you could pull it off with some reconfiguration.
     
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  9. IDGflygirl
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    IDGflygirl Gold Member

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    well, I can't quite imagine that concept @ EWR!
     
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  10. ConsultingChris

    ConsultingChris Silver Member

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    What about issuing flashing/vibrating boarding passes like large restaurants? Then when it is time to board, you return the pass to the counter and board. There would be no confusion if you were holding a large flashing puck.
     
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  11. mrredskin
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    mrredskin Gold Member

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    if people can't figure out that zone 7 is going to be on down the line a bit from zone 1, then there's no hope.

    airlines and agents just can't fix stupid.
     
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  12. IDGflygirl
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    IDGflygirl Gold Member

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    & where would said 'pucks' be distributed -- on a line @ teh gate counter?!:confused:
     
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  13. ConsultingChris

    ConsultingChris Silver Member

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    You could do it on the other side of security. Before going to the gates, you put your security boarding pass into a machine and it gives you a puck encoded with your information.
     
  14. IDGflygirl
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    IDGflygirl Gold Member

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    I can only envision moar 'lines' w/confused folks!:eek:
     
  15. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    I've read the academic articles all before. They generally do not account for how boarding actually happens. They do not account for pre-boarding. They do not account for elites showing up and boarding at their leisure. And - most importantly - they assume that everyone who is going to get on the plane is in the departure lounge when boarding commences and will go in the prescribed order. Just one or two folks showing up late (either a late connection, stuck in security or knocking back one last bottle at the bar) ruins the "perfection" of these models, rendering them markedly similar to the scrums we have today.

    Do you believe the color red is any different than a 2 inch tall number 4 dead center on the BP? I do not.

    Departure lounges in nearly every airport are too small to properly allow for queuing of passengers. And even if they were large enough the queuing doesn't solve the problems. I've seen plenty of GAs stop passengers from boarding out of sequence. Maybe the passenger is trying to cheat, maybe they really do not know (most recent was the large "I" for int'l travel on a UA BP getting confused for boarding group 1) or maybe there is a language barrier. When the GA spends 15-30 seconds explaining that it is not time yet and then has to find a way to get the passenger out of the queue and to the back of the line that's basically worse than just letting them board. After all, random is close enough to most efficient that there's no reason not to just let those folks on when they show up. So the way to "solve" the problem is to have more staff managing the queue and filtering passengers out before they get to the BP reader and jetbridge door. That requires significantly more space and more employees. That translates to higher costs for minimal value. Why bother?

    Southwest strictly enforces the boarding order and they have for a long time. People are used to it and follow it reasonably well. If other airlines chose to be similarly strict across the board then it could work, to the extent that it will be similar to the WN style of efficiency in the gate area. Getting a few thousand GAs to suddenly change they way they work isn't likely to be successful and the net effect still isn't particularly positive.
     
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  16. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    My $0.02:
    I would simplify the idea of color-coding (visual cue) even more by using the existing BPs and presenting them visually. Visual information, if presented in the right way, is much easier to process, and if it is out there where everyone can see it, it might also serve as a deterrent to line-jumpers. Just design a single electronic display panel that will flash a picture of a boarding pass with the number of the seating area that is currently boarding highlighted (and flashing, e.g.) so that people can quickly look at their BPs and see if it is their turn. The GA would simply have to direct everyone to look at the sign to know when it is their turn to board. Systems like these are implemented all over the place: You take a number (that is your seating area on the BP) and wait. When that number is displayed then you know that it is your turn to do whatever you are there for (in this case, start boarding). A cursory understanding of computers is all that is required to design this simple system (heck, just use M$ PowerPoint!).

    A picture is worth a thousand words, so I will just show conceptually what I mean. Anyone who does not get the meaning of something that simple probably has no business traveling unaccompanied...

    BOARDING-SIGN.png
    Update:
    An arrow would also be implemented to direct the passengers either to the elite (blue carpet) lane or to the general lane. Late-arriving elites can always board through the elite lane any time, while all other passengers who missed their turn would simply have to wait until formal boarding has completed...or simply board with the current seating group if theirs had already been called...

    (the BP is public domain, found by just doing Google search for BPs and displaying all images...found some interesting ones too)
     
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  17. LarryInNYC

    LarryInNYC Gold Member

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    Well, two things:
    1. I've never seen a boarding pass that has the zone printed in two inch high letters (but I don't fly United, and I think you mostly fly them?). The boarding passes I'm familiar with have the zone printed in the same size as the flight number.
    2. Yes, I do think it would be different. Since there's no implied ordering to colors there's no pretext to crowd the boarding area because their "about to call my number". Also, I think peer-regulation would work better with colors rather than numbers. Would it solve all the problems? No. Might it be worth considering? Yes.
    I'm fully prepared to accept that the problem can't be solved with the current facilities, but am interested in whether it could be solved with minimal changes to the facilities and, if not, what changes would be optimal (as a thought experiment, not expecting that any real investment will be made in this area).

    Well, perhaps the most reasonable redesign would in fact be random, or first-come-first-served boarding. It would certainly be the cheapest and easiest to understand, and it would eliminate the feeling of unfairness inherent in the current system. However, I don't think it would address the issue that many people here seem to feel exists with people crowding around the boarding area and the inability of priority passengers to get on the plane before the hoi polloi.

    I've flown Southwest exactly once, but I recall they had a substantially different arrangement in their gate area involving number-labelled poles. That is exactly the kind of boarding process design issue that I'm trying to elicit in this thread.
     
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  18. 8MiHi

    8MiHi Silver Member

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    I like this. Information and communication improvements will help. Enforcement would be very useful, too. I would be happy if they would just try from time to time to put an additional GA or redcoat out in the assembly area to inform and direct, especially on full Jumbos.
     
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  19. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    The proximity of the waiting area to the boarding area may be exaggerated as a "problem", in my view. Where it creeps in is when there is a large plane that is completely full...but is this the cause of disorderly boarding? Maybe, maybe not. However, I do not think that anyone is going to spend any money to redesign this area, therefore, a practical solution that works must do so within the current facilities.

    The current system may be unfair but one can certainly appreciate why most airlines try to implement one: (a) the high-value customers need to be shown preference either because they paid more or fly very frequently with the airline to deserve the deference. Letting such customers board first enhances their experience (my favorite is availability of overhead space when forced to travel in Y). (b) The second reason is to ensure efficient boarding for the rest of the cabin (back to front, e.g.)

    My suggested solution of a visually informative display that could be understood even by those with poor reading skills or do not speak English could effectively replace the multi-numbered poles. Importantly, it would be cheap because it would just require a single large "smart" LCD or any LCD with a cheap computer...even a small handheld device with a USB can be used to project the 6 or 7 images of the BPs on the LCD.


    Enforcement by the GA works. I did a quick hop to DCA this week on the US Shuttle service and they do enforce the boarding order, which is non-standard in that it does not care about elite status. It is strictly from the back to the front by seat number. I was embarrassed the first time I took this service a couple of months ago because I assumed "standard" boarding where *Gs get to go in first, so I tried to board before my seating group was called. The GA stopped me and asked me to wait for my turn, explaining that he appreciated my *G status but the boarding system was different. This past week, it was the turn of a top Dividend Mile elite to be embarrassed but he did not take it well when he was asked to wait and step out of the way...he was fuming.

    A potential benefit of enforcement is the potential to decrease line-jumping for fear of embarrassment, but then again, this might not deter someone who would intentionally jump the line.
     
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  20. 8MiHi

    8MiHi Silver Member

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    Inform, Announce, Enforce. Sounds like a plan although the airlines probably think they do this already. They do, but usually not very well.
     
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