Physicist Figures Out Fastest Boarding Plan

Why does it take so long to board a plane? Oversized carry-ons, for one

By Lisa Balde
|  Tuesday, Aug 30, 2011  |  Updated 9:01 PM CDT
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Jason Steffen tested different methods of boarding after he, like many travelers, became stalled by passengers stowing oversized carry-on bags into overhead bins.

Jason Steffen tested different methods of boarding after he, like many travelers, became stalled by passengers stowing oversized carry-on bags into overhead bins.

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Astrophysicist Explains Plane Boarding Project

Jason Steffen tested different methods of boarding after he, like many travelers, became stalled by passengers stowing oversized carry-on bags into overhead bins.
More Photos and Videos

Surprise, the standard row-block method of airplane boarding isn't the most efficient way to get passengers to their seats.

In fact, it's the worst, according to a new experiment by an astrophysicist -- yes, an astrophysicist, who works with Batavia-based Fermilab.

Jason Steffen tested different methods of boarding after he, like many travelers, became stalled by passengers stowing oversized carry-on bags into overhead bins.

Among the boarding types he tested: back to front, window seats then middle and aisle seats, and the oft-used, block-row boarding.

The experiment was funded by TV producer Jon Hotchkiss, who plans to turn it and other experiments like it into a television series called "This vs That." Seventy two people were hired to try out five methods on a replica airplane on a Hollywood soundstage while he timed them.

Based on the trials, he found boarding by alternating rows at once was most efficient, followed by boarding window-to-seat and letting passengers board randomly. They're all faster than block rows, Steffen concluded.

Alternating rows gives passengers enough room to squeeze their luggage into bins while others find their seats.

It's being called the "Steffen Method" and the experiment's full results are printed here.

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