I have been flying for over a decade and haven’t seen any improvements to the boarding or deplaning process for commercial airlines. Southwest may claim it has solved the problem but I still think there can be improvements to make the process more efficient.
As a professional travel, I often have to deal with amateurs. So let me start at the top and bring up the boarding issues and solutions right underneath it:
1. The two item luggage limit is not being enforced at the gate. I still see travelers sneaking in extra items that are not carry-on + personal item. I see DVD boxes, pots and pans, huge bags that don’t fit in the overhead.
Solution: Gate agents and flight attendants need to stop people at the gate to check in large items. I also notice people don’t like putting their personal items underneath their seats (I am one of the culprits). Flight attendants need to enforce the personal items underneath the seats for travelers without status. Get the oversized items out of the boarding process will help everyone leave on time.
2. I do have to admit zone boarding has helped the flow of passengers boarding planes. However the tail end of the herd is often slow and drags down everyone. The root cause is somewhat related to point #1. People are trying to bring on too much. We only have so much overhead space. Flight attendants should know about space capacity at all times and they do not pay attention to it.
Solution: Implement metrics for gate agents and flight attendants on the plane’s ability to leave gate on time. The issue is not the people who boarded first because they have status. The issue is the zone 8 and 9 people sitting next to the frequent travelers (because most airlines board the back of the plane first). The frequent travelers usually don’t check bags and most likely have taken zone 8 and up people’s overhead space. If there was a communication protocol (like signals in football and cues in plays) in place for the flight crew and measurable results, I am sure the agents and airlines will make sure the issue is resolved.
3. For carry-on roller bags, people always put it sideways instead of putting the handle side in first and let the wheel stick out. Flight attendants don’t teach or encourage this behavior to the novice travels - tail end of the boarding process.
Solution: Change the boarding announcements. I really do not need to hear 20x that the flight is going to XYZ destination and there are snacks and wine to be purchased on board, and friendly reminders of one bag up on the overhead and the personal item underneath the seat. We all know talk is cheap. Instead of just reminding people what they should do because no one really listens, I would like to hear flight attendants to be more assertive. Flight attendants need to be TELLING people how to store the bags. If it is a carry-on roller, put the wheels out. If you have a wheely, put it underneath your seats, etc. I am sure there are tons of best practices but I am not seeing any of them being implemented by anyone at this time.
4. Jackets and coats should never be allowed to be placed in the overhead bins. I seriously believe this is the cause of 50% of the delays to the boarding process. Why? Reason is no one wants to move a coat and start a confrontation as coats and jackets are personal items. The other extreme is someone tries to shove his or her bag into a bunch of coats which leads to people re-shuffling the entire bin.
Solution: Make it a rule that no coats or jackets can be stored until the plane has taken off. People should hold on to the coats and jackets as if they were on a bus or train. I don’t see people taking off coats and jackets on commuter trains and buses. There should be no reason why a person cannot hang on to what he/she is already wearing for 15 more minutes. Once the plane has taken off, the flight attendants should be more attentive and help people store their jackets in the overhead bin if space is available. Actually flight attendants should be doing this job to provide better service.
5. Why do people without status seated in the bulk head board at the end? The people seated in the bulk head require the most overhead space since they can’t put anything in front of their seats.
Solution: People seated in the bulk head row should board right after the first and business class people regardless of status. Gate agents and flight attendants know the configuration of the plane. They can easily make an announcement asking for passengers seated in the bulk head to step aside and board first. This approach enables the last minute scramble to shove the laptop bag or purse into the coat cabinet in first class or looking for some tiny space at the back of the plane.
Implementing the recommended boarding process is only half the battle for the airline. Just like getting on the plane, making sure people exit the plane in a civilized manner is as important as boarding. Below are the issues and proposed solutions.
1. I don’t understand why people must rush to get their luggage upon touch down. I was on a flight today as I am writing this post, I saw a man rush 3 rows back to get his carry-on as soon as the plane landed. What’s the rush? It is also unsafe to do so. Furthermore, it is against FAA regulations which can cause arrival delays.
Solution: Now that flight attendants no longer have to memorize the entire flight safety schpeel as most major airlines have replaced it with a standard instructional video. Airlines should add a clip at the end to TELL passengers not to get up until the plane is parked at the gate. Furthermore, have the flight attendants alert the passengers right after landing. Southwest does a pretty good job with this and their ability to get planes out of the gates swiftly is the result. Other major airlines should follow suit.
2. People tend to gather right outside the door of the plane after they have gotten off the plane. This is very annoying. It is not like you are going to be away from your travel companion for an extended period of time. Why do people need to congregate right at the door of the aircraft?
Solution: Have a flight attendant who opened the door to stop this behavior. The flight attendant needs to shepherd people along the way so they do not block the door way for others to get out. Time is money!!
3. Another issue with the deplaning process is people waiting for the entire row in front of them to get their belongings before they can get off the plane. I admit that it’s not a huge rush to get off the plane but I think there should be an urgency to turn a plane around so the people wait at the gate are not delayed. That said, I often see entire rows holding up the plane because someone needed to go back 4 rows to get a bag or the person at the aisle waits for the window and middle seat passengers to get out so they can walk out of the plane together. So, why do people have to deplane row by row? I believe this process can be improved or should at least be tested.
Solution: Instruct the passengers seated on the aisle all go out first. Similar to zone boarding approach, instruct the passengers to get their belongings after the gate is open. Let all the people seated on the aisle to leave the plane first then follow by the middle seat passengers. This approach can also allow passengers with connecting flights to switch seats during the trip so they can get out first to catch a connecting flight. This solution may not work but I would like a progressive airline to give it a shot.
In summary, I sincerely believe the airlines can use my suggestions to improve their boarding/deplaning process. Thus will increase their arrival and departure timing.
I wish everyone a happy and properous 2009. We look forward to your support in our blog and will continue to share our experiences with you.