Are there methods we haven't tried yet?
The Outside-In Method: MythBusters, among others, has promoted the outward-in method of boarding, in which passengers with window seats board the plane first, then those in middle seats, and so forth. In trials, the TV show demonstrated it to be the fastest method. But since United Airlines adopted the MythBusters method, it hasn’t seen significant improvements. Likely because people are still stuck behind passengers stowing overhead bags.
The Steffen Method: In 2014, an astrophysicist named Jason Steffen developed what's generally considered the most efficient model of boarding, tested to be twice as fast as back-to-front, and 20-30% faster than open seating or outside-in. His model has passengers in every other row board from the outside in, starting from the back. In a 30-row plane, for example, passengers with window seats in row 30 would board first, then windows in 28, and so forth in blocks. Steffen's method creates enough of a buffer between rows that nobody ever has to stop. One drawback: It doesn't allow for couples or families to board together. And until that utopia known as the child-free airline launches, this method will probably never be employed in its ideal form.
And the We Gotta Try Something methods: Other proposed methods involve boarding passengers based on how much carry-on luggage they have, from greatest to least, with strictly assigned overhead spaces. Sheer random boarding has also been shown to be more efficient than what we do now: people boarding whenever they want, regardless of seat. Alaska Airlines tried this for a time about 15 years ago but didn't stick to it.
So what can we do?
Yes, there are methods that work better than what we have now. But you're not a method -- you're just a person who hates lines. The best thing you can do is carry on nothing at all, perhaps by checking your damn bag. Gate agents and flight attendants can also help the process by stopping passengers at the boarding door who have oversized bags and forcing them to be gate-checked. Some do, while others enforce size rules with about as much enthusiasm as a Caribbean traffic cop. But like car traffic, functional rules can free up a lot of space. Airlines could also adopt open-seating policies and charge premiums for early boarding to make up the fees. But that idea doesn't seem to have caught on.
Perhaps someday the airlines will make the process more efficient, either by limiting carry-on bags or following a more efficient method. For now, shuffle along, fair traveler. Maybe you can make a new friend on the boarding line.
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