London Gatwick Airport is conducting trials aimed at finding ways of boarding passengers more quickly and efficiently.

The two-month experiment will test various sequences of getting passengers into their seats more rapidly. Modeling indicates these techniques may reduce boarding times by up to 10% compared to conventional methods.

One gate at the airport has been given over to the experiment. Large digital screens have been installed to inform passengers of the new boarding sequences.

Examples of the sequences include boarding in blocks of seats, starting from the rear of the aircraft and working forward, or—still working from the rear—boarding window-seat passengers first, followed by middle- and then aisle-seat passengers.

A range of sequences will be tested to determine whether they make the process faster and, potentially, reduce the tendency for large numbers of passengers to rush forward when boarding begins. Frequently, a crowd forms around the boarding gate as passengers try to get on board as quickly as possible, often ignoring requests to stay seated until called. 

“We want to explore whether boarding by seat number will avoid queues in the gate and when boarding the aircraft,” Gatwick head of enabling technologies and digital innovation Abhi Chacko said. “By communicating to passengers better and boarding passengers by seat number, we also expect to make the whole boarding experience more relaxing.”

Passengers who have booked priority boarding, or those who require special assistance or are traveling with young families, will still board first during the trial.

A Gatwick spokesman said the first few days of the trial had gone well, and travelers seemed to be obeying the screens explaining how they would be boarding.

“Passengers so far seem to quite like it. Boarding times have gone down,” he said.

Similar trials elsewhere suggest much depends on whether passengers are traveling individually or in a group. Individuals are generally boarded more swiftly by the window/middle/aisle method, while larger groups fare better when boarded in blocks of seats.

Inset graphic: Gatwick Airport

Alan Dron, alandron@adepteditorial.com