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Physicist claims faster way to board a plane

If Fermilab astrophysicist Jason Steffen is right, this could be quite the boon to anyone who has to fly commercially (assuming, that is, you're not lucky enough to sit in first class or business.)

Steffen invented a model using an algorithm based on the Monte Carlo optimization method used in statistics and mathematics to halve the time it takes to board an airplane. According to Steffen, the best method is to board alternate rows at a time, starting with the window seats on one side, then the other. The people sitting in window seats would be followed by alternate rows of middle seats, then the aisle seats. Another of Steffen's conclusions: Boarding at random is faster than boarding by blocks.

But he's still a preacher without a congregation. Although he published his study in the Journal of Air Transport Management in 2008, the airline industry hasn't taken much notice.

However, the idea is getting another airing, this time via an online video show called This vs. That. Steffen, who claims that boarding alternate rows could save as much as $110,000,000 annually per carrier-- or more than a billion dollars for the airline industry, also wrote in a recent paper that the savings could be more "given the parallel nature of the boarding process. Indeed, a test with a longer aircraft may show surprising results in this regard."

Mission impossible? Scoff, if you like but can it be worse than what passes for the status quo? And if the idea indeed works out in practice, millions of very grumpy economy passengers will thank him heartily.

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