Thursday, May 19, 2011

Blog Post: Rules of the load

I?d bet that at least once, while you were standing in line to board an airplane, you thought, ?There must be a better way.?

Well, there is, and you can thank mathematics for it.

Jason Steffen, a German astrophysicist, agreed with you and set about finding the best way to load a plane. In his book, ?100 Essential Things You Didn?t Know You Didn?t Know: Math Explains Your World,? John D. Barrow explains what happened.

Steffen used ?a simple computer simulation that could accommodate changes in boarding strategy and add in as many random variations that perturb the best-laid plans.?

?If passengers in all even-numbered rows with window seats board first, they have a clear row of aisle space in front and behind and don?t get in each others? way while stowing bags. Everyone can load bags at the same time. If anyone needs to pass, then there are spare aisles to step into. By beginning from the back, the need to pass other passengers is avoided again.?

Once those folks are aboard, the people sitting in the middle seats, then the aisle seats follow. Then people in the odd-numbered rows follow the same pattern.

?The computer model showed that over hundreds of trials with different small variations (?problem passengers?), this method was on average about seven times quicker at loading passengers than the standard load-from-the-back-method,? Barrow writes.

Now you?re thinking, ?That?s brilliant!?

So, write to your favorite airline and tell them. You?ll look really smart because it?s based in mathematics! (Of course, the airlines would need to strictly enforce their new rules, and passengers would have to stop making a mockery of them.) Emphasize the benefits. Rally fellow line-standers to ?like? your Facebook page and spread the word. You know the airlines want to change the world, one seat row at a time. You?ll be famous, and Steffen will be rich; you see, he has patented his method!

Share your ideas about quickly loading planes.


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