Physics provides answer to airplane seat scramble

Emma Clarke at CNN:

Screenhunter_01_mar_11_0859Queues … the endless airport queues are the bane of any frequent flier’s life. If they were not bad enough at check-in, security and the boarding gate, when you get to the plane there’s more to come as passengers cram bags in lockers, maneuver kids or struggle into window seats.

But it need not be this way, says astrophysicist Jason Steffen, based at the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics in Illinois. He has proved that airlines can make boarding times seven times faster by taking a more orderly — and scientific — approach.

The inspiration to tackle the problem came to Steffen after a long airport delay. Queuing for the umpteenth time that day, he was determined there was a better way to get passengers on board aircraft than the current method of boarding from the back in blocks.

He used what is known as the Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm — or in other words he picked random boarding options, ran them through a software program, keeping the best bits and losing the less efficient, until he found the optimum combination.

More here.