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Northwest Tests First-In-Line Boarding

June 20, 2006

Northwest Tests First-In-Line Boarding
June 20, 2006 – In attempts to speed up the boarding process, Northwest Airlines has started a new random boarding process for coach sections. Passengers can now line up and take their assigned seats in no particular order.

Northwest spokesman Dean Breest says tests earlier this year showed its new system cuts five to 10 minutes from the process. The net effect: Northwest now gets a flight with 200 passengers ready for takeoff in 20 to 25 minutes. Breest says the randomness of the new procedure cuts down on aisle congestion. Until the introduction of multiple classes in the 1950s, airlines boarded passengers randomly. But planes were smaller and traveling by air was more leisurely then.

Northwest is still boarding first travelers with a disability, families with children, first-class passengers and elite-level frequent fliers. After that, passengers board in whatever order they line up. Gate agents and flight attendants limit the number of people allowed to board at one time. Northwest’s flights returning from Europe will continue to be boarded by rows, following the process used by KLM, Northwest’s European partner.

Menkes van den Briel, a researcher at Arizona State University who studies aircraft boarding, says the most efficient approach for airlines with assigned seating is to board those assigned to window seats first, followed by those in middle seats, and finally those in aisle seats.

United says it shortened boarding by four to five minutes, saving the company about $1 million a year, when it adopted that process.

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