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This airport says it’s cracked the code to quicker airplane boarding times


(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

The airplane boarding process is clunky. Getting on a plane is slower and more complicated than ever, with more travelers opting for carry-on bags in an expanding array of classes. London Gatwick airport is attempting a new timesaving solution to fix the problem: having passengers board the aircraft individually by seat number, sometimes from back to front.

“Early indications are that this new technique has the potential to reduce the overall boarding time,” Abhi Chacko, head of enabling technologies and digital innovation for Gatwick Airport, said in a news release. “By communicating to passengers better and boarding passengers by seat number, we also expect to make the whole boarding experience more relaxing and, potentially, prevent large numbers” of passengers rushing forward at any stage.

The plan isn’t fully implemented but is, rather, a two-month experiment. Airport staff will test different boarding techniques to see what works best not only for speed but also for passengers’ well-being. Gatwick, the Britain’s second-largest airport, seeks a method that prevents groups of passengers from crowding the gate, which causes congestion and boarding slowdowns.


(Courtesy of Gatwick Airport)

One trial will use digital displays at Gatwick’s Gate 101 to inform passengers when to board, starting from the back row. Window seats will go first, followed by middle seats, then aisle. If all goes according to plan, the new techniques could cut boarding time by up to 10 percent.

What will remain the same in Gatwick’s temporary scheme is timing for travelers who have historically boarded first: Priority-class, young families and people who need special assistance will continue to be earliest.

Gatwick is just one player in the aviation industry working to make air travel more efficient. JetBlue and Delta are experimenting with facial-recognition technology to shave minutes off boarding. United and American Airlines are adding more overhead bin space to their planes to clear out logjams. Programs like Mobile Passport, CLEAR, Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are continuing to work on cutting down time spent in security and customs.

It remains to be seen which of the new approaches will be effective, but it seems things are trending in the right direction for faster boarding.

Read more:

Airline boarding is a mess. Can these changes fix it?

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