Delta Air Lines has a brand new “simple” way for passengers to board its planes and it will finally give travelers a chance to use the algebra they learned in middle school. Starting January 23, 2019, passengers on Delta will be divided into eight distinct boarding groups, requiring passengers to remember their aisle, seat, priority, cabin, and color scheme, the airline announced today.
Groups one through three are for people who can pony up for premium classes, including first class, business, and premium economy (Delta Comfort +, the choice for thousandaires everywhere!). Group four will collect any remaining priority passengers, including silver medallion, credit card holders, and other Sky Priority types, while lowly passengers in the main cabin are spread out through groups five through seven. Basic Economy schlubs will be stuck in boarding group eight.
Believe it or not, this is all less complex than American Airlines, which has nine boarding zones, and United Airlines, which only boards with five zones but, after an update to its boarding areas, now loads those five zones through two lanes (ugh, math).
According to Australia’s ABC, passenger boarding delays cost U.S. airlines almost $40 billion each year, so it makes sense that they would want to speed it up while still making the high-paying customers feel special. (Delta’s chief marketing officer made a statement explaining that the new system is partially to give the people what they pay for. )
Despite the new-fangled boarding hokey-pokey, studies have shown that so-called block boarding (the method currently used) is actually the slowest way to board a plane. The fastest method, according to an astrophysicist named Jason Steffen, is a complex system of boarding based on alternating rows by seat type (window, aisle, middle). Steffen used an optimization algorithm and a computer simulation to devise the method and found that his scheme cut passenger boarding time by three quarters, despite its complexity. In Steffen’s experiments, it took less than half the time of block boarding.
In effect, it’s hard to see how Delta’s new system will counter the boarding chaos.