This weekend I flew to Atlanta for a conference focusing on the state of textile production and the extreme harm it does to the environment, along with the exploitation of human life that is occurring to ensure you can only pay $19 for an article of clothing. The conference gave me a lot to think about and exposed me to some facts I had never known. I also got to meet some great people from around the world. But what occupied my thoughts after the conference was something that’s been bothering me for a while: why is inefficiency maximized when we board airplanes?
As anyone can see when boarding an airplane, the front is filled first and there is a tendency to fill the aisles before the window seats. The people way in the back are generally the last to board. I’ve wondered about this and I spent the time waiting to board the plane discussing it with a co-worker, who has more experience flying than me and corroborated my observations with his decades of time spent on planes. We both agreed that the inefficiency of boarding is maximized and it makes a lot more sense to fill the window seats and back of the plane first. It also makes sense to board First Class last, since everyone has to brush past them, which is probably annoying. Furthermore, if you are paying $6,000+ for an airline ticket, wouldn’t you prefer to board the plane and then take off right away? Why make First Class sit there the longest before takeoff?
While waiting in line, we both agreed that the executives and other rule makers in the airline industry know this, so there is probably some reason why the inefficiency is maximized. I offered the idea that perhaps loading takes longer than necessary so that it gives the airline workers more time to prepare the plane for flight. But…this idea falls flat, due to the ease with which boarding times could be adjusted. Just change the boarding time to compensate for the pre-flight preparations and people will change what time they leave home for the airport. No problem. So something else is happening.
I didn’t get the answer while standing in line or while on the flight home. It was after I got home and took a long nap that the answer appeared in my mind. It turns out that there is a reason for maximizing the inefficiency of boarding an airplane. It’s related to what the airline industry is concerned about the most: the safety of its passengers. I’m not saying this is correct and the actual reason why it takes so long to board an airplane, but stay with me…
If you board a plane nose first, then you are MAXIMIZING the amount of time that the passengers are being monitored – by each other. The airline industry uses the TSA and its own employees as filters, but why stop there? The more you filter, the more you can catch. The people that board a plane first are able to see everyone that enters the plane, and the people that board last are able to see everyone that is already on the plane. Additionally, by seating people in aisles before windows acts as a means of more observation, since the people in aisles have to stand up, which allows them to be scrutinized by the other passengers.
So there you have it. There actually is an explanation for why the boarding of airplanes occurs in a manner that is maximally inefficient with respect to time: it provides for an additional layer of security that the airline industry doesn’t have to pay for (they also care about money).