Tag Archives: air travel

Why Airplane Boarding Takes Forever

The short answer is because the common method is the slowest method. The longer answer is probably because… money: a lot of people will pay more for a first class ticket just to avoid the horrors of boarding. Vox has a pretty in-depth article on the five different methods of boarding a plane:

Boarding time for 173 passeners Boarding Methods for 72 passengers

  • Back-to-front, a.k.a. the Standard: people in the rear of the plane board first. This is what most airlines do, and it’s been proven to be by far the slowest method of boarding a plane. Why? Because a lot of the time someone already sitting on the aisle has to get up to let someone sitting by the window through, and people have to access the same overhead spaces, so everyone ends up waiting and waiting. It takes 173 people 25 minutes to board a plane in this way.
  • Assigned Random: no order; people just line up and go to their assigned seats. Because they’re scattered all over the plane, it actually takes less time than the back-to-front method. So here’s a situation where engineering has actually made things worse than doing nothing at all. This takes 17 minutes.
  • Outside-In: like back-to-front, but with people by the windows boarding first, then middle seats, then aisles. No one has to get up to let anyone else in, so congestion is much decreased. United does this now, and makes exceptions for groups traveling together, so they all board at once. Down to 15 minutes.
  • Unassigned Random, a.k.a. the Southwest: just like the bus, in which people get on and sit somewhere. This is faster than the Assigned Random because people will just sit somewhere rather than wait in line for their assigned seat. Few really like this method though, due to the added stress of “will I get a good seat?”. It makes us feel much better knowing ahead of time that we’re stuck in the middle. 14 minutes.
  • Optimized Outside-In, a.k.a. the Steffen: just like the Outside-In method, except only one side of the plane is sent in at a time, and rows are skipped to keep people from using the same overhead space. The method is named after a physicist studying this very important problem. Experiments done with this method were for 72 people instead of 173, but extrapolating from the proportions, you get about 13 minutes to fill the 173-person plane. That’s almost twice as fast as the standard method. Here’s a video demonstrating its awesomeness:

The Vox article has simulation videos of all of the boarding methods and more details on them.

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From Vox, via… Gawker, maybe?

Why You Can’t Use Phones On Airplanes

College Humor has a great new video explaining why you can’t use electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

The great thing about the skit is that while the stewardess’ explanation is funny, it’s really not that far off the mark.

From YouTube, via Airplane9

American Airlines Promises Even LESS Legroom

This is not a joke: the VP of flight service said they expect to add seats on almost 70% of its planes. More seats + same amount of space = less space per seat. In the past 20 years, airline seats shrunk from an average 34″ of leg room to 31″; on some low-cost carriers, they’re even down to 28″.

no leg room


The only thing making American think twice about this is that the FAA requires a steward(ess) for every 50 seats, and American already averages almost 150 seats a plane, so adding any more seats means adding another flight attendant, which means adding enough seats to make that worthwhile. They’re also looking into using smaller seats, so they can cram more of them in.

So, any way you look at it, the message is “Don’t fly American”.

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From Airline Biz Blog, via NPR

TSA Backtracks On The New Relaxed Rules, Thanks To Flight Attendants

Back in March, the TSA decided to go further with their historical lack-of-thinking-rules-through and not-trying-to-have-them-make-logical-sense by allowing certain knives and “sports sticks” on planes again, because — no kidding — Europe was doing it. Well, when the stewardesses heard about this, they got all up in arms because now that they don’t have to deal with drunken passengers wielding Swiss Army knives anymore, they don’t wanna start again.

TSA's small knives guide

This WAS going to become the new rule, but not anymore…


Because, screw the fact that it’s only happened once in history  — they were sober and wielding box cutters on 9/11, but still — it could happen again. Astronomical odds always trump passengers’ convenience, and at 2,000 pocket knives being confiscated every day by the TSA, that’s quite the trumping. Long story short, the TSA finally gave in to its wife, the International Flight Attendants Association, and had to go back and tell us kids that we’re too young to keep those Swiss Army knives after all. “As mommy pointed out, just because the European neighbors are doing it, that doesn’t mean it’s right for us.”

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TSA Updates Banned Items List To Make Even Less Sense

After 9/11, the shoe bomber and the liquid explosives plot, the TSA did what any unimaginative, reactionary organization would do: it banned anything that was used in a previous attack, despite the fact that box cutters, shoe bombs and liquid explosives were never attempted again.

Now that some time has passed since the turmoil of the early 2000s, since bin Laden is dead, and since more and more people are starting to wonder how much sense it makes to ban some of the things on the TSA’s list, the agency has decided to chill out a bit and let us bring knives and sports sticks on board airplanes. Well actually, the official reason is that the Europeans are doing it — seriously. (No word on what the TSA would do if the Europeans jumped off of a bridge.)

TSA's small knives guide

But not all knives: just ones with a blade shorter than 2.36″ … because you gotta draw the line somewhere, people! Of course, if the knife has a molded grip, that somehow makes it more dangerous, so that’s still a no-no. And box cutters, that’s still verbotten: sure, their blade is like an inch at most, but their effectiveness in plane hijacking has been proven, whereas Swiss Army knives’ has not.

For the sports sticks: you can bring golf clubs — which are used quite a bit to beat people up — but you can’t bring full size bats… only bats that are less than two feet long. Because if you’re gonna beat the other passengers, they at least want you to do it with equipment from a classy sport like golf, not thug-ridden, steroid-laden baseball.

Update, 5 June 2013: Nevermind.

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From TSA, via NPR

The Writing Is On The Wall For Having To Turn Off All Electronic Devices

Everyone hates having to turn off their iPod, Kindle and anything else with an on/off switch while the plane is taking off or landing. And for somewhat over a year, ever since The New York Times and The Atlantic teamed up with Alec Baldwin to protest the nonsensical rule, pressure has been slowly but steadily building on the FAA to relax. The latest salvo came from both the FCC and Congress: the chairman of the former and a Missouri Senator from the latter both sent letters to the head of the FAA asking the agency to reconsider. The Senator pointed out that “the current rules are inconvenient to travelers, don’t make sense and lack a scientific basis” and threatened legislative action if the FAA doesn’t change its tune.


In March of 2012, the FAA responded to the pressure by agreeing to test Kindles and iPads and approve them for all phases of flight. This is a half-measure, because not even a year later, Google’s Nexus 7 is the hot new tablet, yet it’s nowhere on the FAA’s radar. What needs to change is the rule requiring every model of every brand of tablet to be tested on every kind of plane. In October of 2012, the FAA agreed to take another look at its rules and to possibly change them. There’s no timeline for this process, but a committee is being organized this month to maybe do something about it. And with another federal agency, a Senator and the population at large barking at their door, we are likely to soon keep our devices on during the entire flight. “Soon”, meaning 2014. Maybe. If you’re good.

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From The New York Times

When Was The First Time You Showered On An Airplane?

For this guy — who looks kinda like John Locke from Lost — it was on April 30th, 2011. He figured out that a one-way first-class ticket from Bangkok to Hong Kong on Dubai’s Emirates airline only cost 550$. It’s a short, three hour flight, but still a really cheap way to get a taste of Emirates’ first class, which makes Delta’s seem like a budget limo ride. Among the amenities: complete privacy in a pod with a door, good size touchscreen TV, automatic window shade, massage chair that reclines into a fully flat bed, automatic, recessed beverage tray, noise cancelling over-the-ear headphones, and of course, delicious food. All of this in a two-story airplane with access to a bar and shower.

From YouTube, via Laughing Squid

Most Americans Actually Think The TSA Is Doing A Good Job

This must mean that people are buying the security theater put on by the TSA, because that’s the only way these numbers make sense: according to a Gallup poll that hopefully comes from Bizarro world, 54% of Americans think the TSA is either doing an excellent or good job, and 76% think it’s very, or somewhat effective. If these numbers are true, it’s very clear that those who know better have done an absolutely abysmal job at informing the public about the TSA’s actual performance. Therefore, it’s up to you, the reader, to help the truth spread its wings. Some bullet points to mention to everyone you know:

  • In its entire 11 year existence, the TSA has detected a possible terrorist exactly one time, in January of 2012. Meanwhile, they let two real terrorists with explosives board planes, as well as failing to catch dangerous items like a stun gun and foot-long razor blades on regular people.
  • The Congressman who wrote the legislation to create the TSA wants it dismantled, because it’s become a bloated, ineffective bureaucracy which among other shortcomings, during tests in 2006, let 60% of explosives go through security.
  • He is joined by other Congressmen who want the TSA to be overhauled because “Today, TSA‘s screening policies are based in theatrics. They are typical, bureaucratic responses to failed security policies meant to assuage the concerns of the traveling public.”
  • Almost all “security procedures” enforced by the TSA are reactionary measures taken just for show, designed mostly to make us feel safer: they check shoes for bombs, while terrorists could hide them in body cavities or in thin sheets on their person. Liquids over 3.5oz aren’t allowed, unless they’re of a medical nature — meaning terrorists would just have to get them inside of a medical bottle. Everyone goes through checkpoints, except the people who work at airports, who could be terrorists themselves or be easily bribed by some.
  • The two measures that do work have been reinforcing cockpit doors and making sure every piece of luggage on a plane is owned by a passenger.
  • Despite “no-fly” lists containing thousands of names, one terrorist made it on a plane due to not being on the list, and another made it on even though he was on the list.
  • The naked body scanners don’t work: they often fail to detect items and, at the same time, have a high rate of false detection. One guy even demonstrated how to easily get metal or explosives past them and then interviewed a former TSA agent, who admitted the scanners are more or less useless.
  • To top it off, the TSA harasses and embarrasses children and the elderly in the name of this fake security, because it has to keep up the charade.


The whole concept of a security checkpoint is ridiculous: if terrorists wanted to kill a couple of hundred people, they wouldn’t have to board a plane — all they’d have to do is detonate a bomb at the checkpoint itself, where hundreds are corralled in close proximity in the security line, by the very agency that’s supposed to protect us. The reason scenarios like this — as well as similar ones, like attacks on shopping malls — haven’t happened is because what’s really protecting us is not the TSA, but rather law enforcement and intelligence agencies (police, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc) who catch terrorists like the Times Square Bomber, before they’re anywhere near an airport.

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From Gallup, via Forbes

Naked TSA Protester Found Not Guilty

Back in April, a man stripped down to his birthday suit at the Portland airport in protest of what he felt was TSA harassment; his two-hour trial was yesterday. During, he explained that the TSA found traces of nitrates — which can be used for bomb-making — from a wipe of his clothing. Fed up with all the machines, tests and procedures that basically try to see people naked, he decided to “up the ante” and show them he wasn’t hiding any explosives. Airport police arrested him, but in Oregon, public nudity is recognized as a form of free expression, especially in the context of a protest. The judge declared him not guilty because of this, despite suggestions from the prosecutor that he came up with the protest angle after the fact.


Even if he was found guilty, he would’ve just had to pay a fine, not face jail time, since the misdemeanor was downgraded by the prosecutor to a violation. But, he may still have to pay an 11,000$ fine as well as be put on the no-fly list, because the TSA is investigating him for interfering with the screening process — apparently by proving to them that he wasn’t hiding anything. Maybe someone should organize a large-scale naked protest, to test the TSA’s resolve of treating everyone as a terrorist.

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From KGW and The Oregonian, via NPR

Airport Security Has Not Been Thought All The Way Through

When it comes to security theatrics, our willful suspension of disbelief is eroding:

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From Wulffmorgenthaler, via Laughing Squid