Response to Brad L. on Airplane Boarding

by robekulick

Brad L. writes:

“I read that some airlines are going to random boarding. I think the problem had become that many people try to advantage themselves and break the system. Something can work theoretically and in the lab, but fail in real life. Maybe this isn’t really a operations research problem, but a game theory problem instead? I know that I often treat boarding a plane as a competition.”

First of all, one very interesting aspect of that paper is that random boarding actually did much better than block boarding or back-to-front boarding, so even if they don’t adopt some fancy operations research method, random boarding still appears to be an improvement.

Brad is correct that in considering an optimal board method, people are likely to be far less well behaved in the frenzy that tends to accompany airline boarding. For some reason, boarding an airplane just seems to be one of those things that causes people to descend into Lord of the Flies style free-for-all. However, that being said, if you look at the paper, the way the Steffen Method works is by reducing the interaction between people in the aisles of airplanes. So it actually might very well be the case that the bias in the experiment works the other way and the Steffen Method will be even better in practice relative to the other boarding strategies considered.