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Getting on Board - Risky or Not?

Getting the boarding process right could be key to minimising air travel exposure to infection and surprisingly a random approach is judged to be the most effective tactic.

A key part of the success of the LCC business model has been the ability to deliver fast turnarounds to maximise aircraft utilisation. Minimising the time an aircraft sits on the ground means they can be more efficiently deployed boosting revenues while also lessening costs. To deliver this model airlines have invested a lot of time understanding different boarding and disembarking processes to ensure aircraft spend as much time in the air and as little time on the ground.

With flight schedules significantly reduced at the moment, airlines will want to ensure the best efficiency of their operational fleets. In fact with revenues diminished by the restrictions introduced to combat the Covid-19 pandemic you could argue that they are even more important now than before as airlines look to keep costs to a minimum during a time that demand remains diluted.

But it is no longer about just getting passengers on an aircraft as quickly as possible, but doing this in the safest manner possible. When it comes to boarding or disembarking there are so many variables to consider with the process – the aircraft type, the flight load, airport infrastructure, using an air bridge or remote stand and using multiple doors are just some factors. Then, of course, there are the economic influences on the process –frequent flyers, those that have booked premium classes of travel or an ancillary option of boarding the aircraft ahead of others.

In general a boarding group approach has been the most common based on the area of the cabin you are seated. It may not be the most efficient but is the easiest to manage. LCCs prefer the random approach but boarding via the front and back of the aircraft, a process that studies suggest can deliver an efficiency enhancement of around a quarter. Many believe an outside to inside option – window to aisle – is the fastest, but that will need a changing consumer mindset to become commonplace.

Right now many airlines are adopting a single forward door loading in a rear to front approach developed to minimise potential contact points as passengers pass down an aircraft. It seems to make sense on paper.

In fact, similar methods have been trialled ahead of the current Covid-19 public health crisis. One example was in Oct-2019 at London Gatwick where the UK developed what became known as ‘bingo boarding’ at one of its gates for a two week period as part of an experimentation of flexible boarding patterns.