5 Easy Ways Airlines Could Make Flying Suck Way Less
Modern airlines are miracle destroyers. They've managed to take one of mankind's most spectacular achievements, self-powered flight, and turn it into the absolute goddamned worst thing imaginable. But the next time you consider walking to another continent rather than endure a flight, remember that it doesn't need to be this way. Air travel could be made a thousand times more efficient and enjoyable by only changing a few small things. Here are those things.
Make Passengers Less Angry By Not Making Them Walk Through First Class
Unless you're unseemly rich or can get your work to pay for it, odds are you're flying economy. That means paying for the privilege to sit still in space small enough that it violates several human rights laws while your lungs get filled with badly recycled air and overpriced peanut dust. But as if that's not punishment enough, airlines love to rub in what a poor you are by having you march through first class -- a place with larger seats, free food, and complimentary puppies. Revolutions have been started over less.
This isn't us making assumptions, either. Actual experts did some plane science and determined that simply knowing that there are luxury seats being filled by someone else's ass instead of yours will increase the chances of a passenger becoming unruly by 384 percent. The researchers noted that this is the same psychological effect one would get from a nine-hour flight delay.
To which the reporters probably replied, "Oh, so you've flown with United before."
What's surprising is that this affects all passengers on a plane. The passengers in coach/economy/sardine class are naturally going to be more irritated, but this spike in "air rage" also affects the caviar lovers in first class. In fact, they are almost 12 times more likely to throw a fit if they board from the front of the plane instead of the middle. The researchers called these "entitled reactions," which is a more tactful way of saying that watching all the peons shuffle past you to their economy class seats turns you into a smug, insufferable little shit.
It's worth noting that some airlines are working to reduce this. Some are toying with creating a Downton Abbey-style system with two jetways for boarding so that the proles and the aristocracy never have to cross paths. As it should be.
Instead Of Forcibly Bumping Off Passengers, Hold A Seat Auction
United Airlines made headlines back in April for its "Beat It or We Beat You" overbooking policy. A flight had been overbooked -- by which we mean it wasn't overbooked at all, but United wanted to give paid seats to their own crew members -- so the airline tried offering passengers up to $800 apiece to give up their seats. But when nobody bit, they started forcing random people off the plane. One passenger, a doctor, refused, because he figured he should care more about his sick patients than United wanting an extra flight attendant in Louisville a few hours early. As a reward, he was beaten and dragged off the plane. Two weeks and one concussion later, they reached an expensive financial settlement so that nobody had to learn a valuable lesson.
"Yes, we learned that from now on, we should ask passengers to turn off cellphones even earlier before takeoff ..."
There's such an easy solution here: Just ask who's easiest to bribe. Seat auctions, as they are known, used to happen all the time back in the '70s, those mystical days of your parents' youth, when candy was a penny and politicians at least pretended they were trying. The process is simple: Whoever accepts the smallest amount for their ticket gets paid (off). If no one raises their hands at first, you up the reward until some slacker figures he'd rather buy a 4K TV than get home on time. And it worked really well, until airlines realized that saving two microseconds of income and bullying people out of seats would be a lot more fun.
United, if they weren't so busy letting sexual assaulters walk out of their airports, could learn a thing or two from Delta, which has taken a novel and slightly devious approach to the seat auction. When you check in on a Delta flight that's in danger of being overbooked, they will ask you in advance how much money you'd accept in exchange for a later flight, so they know beforehand whom to approach if they need to bump someone. It's basically a blind seat auction, and it helps Delta get planes out faster while kicking fewer customers to the curb. It might dash your hopes of getting $5,000 for your seat and throwing a legendary party, but ... actually yeah, that just sucks.
Some of you may be screaming "JUST STOP OVERBOOKING FLIGHTS!" at the screen, but that will never happen. People miss flights or cancel all the time, and because giant metal tubes flying through the air while flipping off God is expensive, airlines will chase every single dollar they can get. So overbooking is here to stay, but hopefully people can make a few bucks off of it from now on instead of losing their teeth.
Let Computers Get Planes Off The Runway Faster
Have you ever been on a taxiing plane, ready to get up in the air and watch Bridesmaids for the fourth time, when the pilot announces that they'll be waiting another 20 minutes on the tarmac? Could you physically feel your soul shrivel and die a little bit? That happens a lot. At Newark International Airport, passengers wait an average of 52 minutes on the runway during bad traffic, which is sometimes longer than the flight itself. But even if the runways were wide open, those Newark passengers still waited an average of 14 minutes, burning up jet fuel and seeing how long they could keep their phone on before being yelled at by the flight crew.
The problem is that airports are apparently too dumb to figure how to optimally start pushing planes away from the gate so that they all end take off at ideal intervals. Fortunately, we created something smart enough to do that job for us: computers.
You may have read about them online.
Hamsa Balakrishnan, one of the above-average giant brains at MIT, created a queuing model which took a number of different factors into account, such as weather, runway traffic, and arrival schedules. The model then spat out the optimal time for each plane to push away from its gate in order to take off as soon as possible. Balakrishnan then tested her model out at five different airports, and found that taxiing time was reduced by an average of 20 percent, saving ten minutes on average during a congested day at Newark -- which can be the difference between making a connecting flight and sleeping overnight on the floor of a terminal.
However, saving time isn't the only benefit. Each aircraft that idles at the gate instead of waiting on the tarmac saves between 16 and 20 gallons of fuel, both helping the environment and saving airlines tons of money, which could translate into lower ticket prices (it wouldn't). Thankfully, Balakrishnan's model is so easy to implement into existing systems that it's already being tested out at airports around the country. Soon we'll have computer algorithms deciding when airplanes take off to avoid crashing into each other ... unless they figure out that crashing them is more cost-effective, in which case we're all screwed.
Get Passengers On Planes Faster By Using Smarter Ordering
If you're not one of the rich or lucky few who get to fly first class, even getting on the plane can be a pain in the ass. You have to stand around the entrance to the line, waiting to pounce as soon as your group number is called. Then, once you get on the plane, you have to stop every ten feet for another passenger to jam their bags in the overhead bin like it's the first time they've ever lifted their arms over their heads.
You might have wondered why airlines don't just load passengers in the order of where their seats are, starting at the back of the plane. But do you know why those greedy assholes at the airport don't do it? Because it's a terrible idea, that's why. People still need to take up space checking their bags, which prevents other people from doing the same. So all back-to-front boarding would do is move the line from the airport to the smaller, more inconvenient, and ultimately more infuriating airplane. Not only would no time be saved, but the risk of people sitting in the tail section getting bludgeoned to death would also skyrocket.
Fortunately, there's a way of boarding passengers that is much faster -- up to twice as fast, in fact. You didn't guess what it is, though, because it's this:
This is known as the Steffen method, because an extremely smart man named Jason Steffen punched his computer keyboard until it spat out that jumble of numbers. Instead of a steady stream of suffering, customers board in waves, taking up every other seat one side at a time. This way, no two people need to put away their luggage near each other at the same time, and since putting away luggage is the biggest time-waster during boarding, that would save all of us a lot of standing around staring at the seat you can't get to, wondering if you can strangle that weak-armed teenager before the air marshal can get to you.
Improve Both Prices And Comfort By Charging Customers By The Pound
First off, don't shoot the messenger. We're not fond of giving the skinnies even more things to be smug about, either. What would they even spend their extra money on? Kale? But the hard truth is that when it comes to keeping a metal tube in the air as efficiently as possible, weight is a very important factor. So strap in, and if the straps are digging into your thighs, prepare to be told why you should pay more for a ticket.
The heavier an object, the harder and more expensive it becomes to keep it afloat in these spectacular displays of mankind's hubris. In fact, weight can make such a difference financially that airlines will do just about anything if it can save their planes an ounce or two. For example, merely by switching out the two required 40-pound flight instruction manuals for two iPads, American Airlines is saving itself $1.2 million a year in fuel costs. That's like 40 iPads.
So with the growing size of, well, everyone, airlines have already started jacking up ticket prices to account for the possibility of substantially heavier planes. One airline, however, thinks that it has found a better solution. Samoa Air is now charging passengers different ticket fares based on how much they weigh. Samoa is one of the huskiest countries in the world, so they would be particularly sensitive to weight concerns on planes. When you book a flight, you enter an estimate of your weight, and then they weigh you again at the airport to be sure you paid the right amount. Yes, they weigh you at the airport. We don't know what's worse: being forced to be weighed, or that being forced to be weighed isn't even the most invasive thing that'll happen to you going through an airport.
The obvious counterargument is that this is discriminatory against overweight people, which it is, but Samoa Air doesn't see it like that. According to them, "airlines don't run on seats; they run on weight." By their logic, you're not buying an airplane seat; you're buying an airplane seat and the amount of fuel it takes to keep a you-shaped mass 40,000 feet in the air. Chris Langton, the CEO of the airline, also pointed out airlines are already discriminating in reverse by charging passengers more for luggage based on weight when another passenger could carry that weight on their person and not pay a cent more. We're not sure if Langton said those words out loud to himself before saying them to the press, to see exactly how they sounded coming out of a human being's mouth, but it's too late for that now.
Want to make air travel suck less, and also look like a swollen-headed alien monster? Put this thing on your head.
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