Among the frequent annoyances of flying on commercial airlines are slow boarding and a scramble to find overhead space for a carry-on. Now, astonishingly, airlines are taking steps to put humanity into what has become a cattle call by speeding the process and trying to reduce the number of passengers left holding a bag with nowhere to put it.
On Monday, Delta started experimenting with having airline employees load carry-on bags above seats before passengers board. And Southwest is making it easier for families to sit together. Albany International Airport is even trying loading bridges that allow passengers to board and leave through a plane’s front and back doors.
Now, don’t think the efforts on the part of airlines to streamline the process of boarding people onto an airplane are all about nurturing passengers. Boarding problems translate into lost time, which translates into flights missed and trips flummoxed and complaints and ultimately money. Delays at the gate can mean missed connections, upset customers and a shortage of seats down the line. Researchers from Northern Illinois University once calculated that the cost of operating a flight grows by $30 for every minute that a plane sits at a gate.
Other airlines are looking at things like earlier boarding for those who don’t have those annoying carry-on bags that block aisles, if only temporarily. The process of boarding and leaving, or make that de-planing, is an ever-evolving one, falling under the heading of “customer service,” which used to be a prime reason people chose one airline over another. Now, the call is made mostly on who’s going where and when.
Business travelers, who aren’t spending their own money, may have a luxury of favoring one airline over another and hang the cost, but that won’t be an option for most people boarding planes this summer.