A free-for-all gets people on planes quicker than starting at the back

Philip Ball in Nature:

05120511Budget airlines’ ‘free boarding’ policies may produce an indecorous scramble for seats, but don’t be too quick to grumble. According to a team of computer scientists and mathematicians, this is one of the most efficient ways to board passengers.

Boarding from the back rows first – typical in classier airlines – is much less efficient. As experience tells us, boarders are frequently held up while those ahead of them block the aisles.

“Back-to-front boarding is bad because it is designed for cardboard-thin passengers, or for the spacious surroundings of the first-class compartment”, explains Eitan Bachmat of Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

But finding better boarding strategies is tough. So tough, in fact, that Bachmat and his colleagues were forced to use mathematics more commonly applied to the theory of relativity and prime number theory.

More here.