The real reason airlines use zone boarding

By Gus Lubin, Business Insider

If you’ve ever flown coach, then you know the feeling of standing in a mob of Zone 4 ticket holders while the flight attendant repeats for the tenth time: “Now boarding all passengers in Zone 1.”

One assumes it would be faster to board the passengers who are waiting at the gate, rather than wait for the last remaining Zone 1 passenger to return from Starbucks.

And it really is faster to board randomly — 5 to 10 percent faster according to American Airlines. The results of an in-house study were cited earlier this summer when American abandoned the standard back-to-front seating protocol in favor of random seating for coach passengers. Of course first class and priority passengers still get to board first.

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So why do most airlines insist on the zone boarding system?

Apparently because the random method involves more work for flight attendants, who must prepare the plane for takeoff faster and begin seating sooner.

The Assn. of Professional Flight Attendants disagrees [with the American Airline study]. It contends the process has created “complete chaos” among passengers, forcing attendants to spend more time preparing the plane for takeoff. The attendants are irked, it says, because they are not paid for the extra time needed to load the plane.

“We understand it needs to be tweaked a little,” said Jeff Pharr, a spokesman for the flight attendants union.

So, basically, there’s still disagreement about which is the fastest way to board, depending on who you’re talking to.

Airlines also don’t like “random” boarding because it doesn’t butter up their best customers — the members of their frequent-flyer plans.

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