Boarding planes slowly causes delays — here's how your etiquette can make a difference next time you fly
09.11.2023 - 02:11
/ Gilbert Ott
Boarding a plane is a complex process for all involved.
Airlines are tasked with getting everyone on the flight in time for takeoff while passengers fight for luggage space in overhead bins.
So it's no wonder that a slow boarding process can cause flight delays, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
To understand how boarding time affects flights, it's important to consider the role air-traffic control plays in takeoff.
"When a pilot says 'flight ready for pushback, we need a takeoff slot,' air traffic control has to respond to that request," Dean Headley, an aviation expert at Wichita State University and the publisher of the Airline Quality Rating, told Insider.
Air-traffic control may then tell the pilot to proceed to the runway, or to wait a few minutes, Headley said.
If the boarding process moves slower than anticipated, he added, it could end up delaying the flight — as well as other flights that air-traffic controllers are juggling.
"There's a rhythm to air-traffic control. They know what their volumes and patterns are. And if it gets a little bit out of sync, that doesn't just affect that one airplane," Headley said. "It creates potential congestion."
Flight expert Gilbert Ott agrees. Ott estimates that he travels more than 200,000 miles a year and has been writing about flying for the last decade on his blog, God Save the Points.
"People don't realize that flights are bound by air-traffic control restrictions. So if they get everybody on board quickly, you can often get released into an earlier slot sequence faster and land early," he said. "But if they have to push people back, those minutes count. Next thing you know, you're waiting for the next available slot to roll through, and that means you land late."
Airlines like Southwest and United are working to make boarding a more efficient process.
For example, United Airlines recently updated its economy boarding. From October 26, United began boarding window-seat passengers, then those in a middle seat, and finally those in the aisle, according to an internal memo previously shared with Insider. After trying the method at five airports, the airline found it sped up boarding by up to two minutes.
And back in March, Southwest Airlines started experimenting with fun tactics to make passengers board faster, like playing pump-up music and using flashing lights to signal it's time to move, as The Wall Street Journal originally reported.
To avoid delays from slow boarding, there are a few things you can do to make the process move faster.
According to Ott, minimizing boarding time all starts with how you pack. Both Ott and Headley suggested that passengers skip bringing carry-on roller bags so they don't have to spend time searching