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American Airlines recently changed its boarding process from one that fills the plane from back-to-front to one that “randomly” assigns boarding groups to people sitting in different rows.

“You definitely will not have 24 people in four rows boarding at the same time,” said Scott Santoro, director of airport consulting for American Airlines. He said studies have shown that the random seating process reduces boarding times 5% to 10%.

The Assn. of Professional Flight Attendants disagrees. 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.

One of the major studies supporting a change in boarding procedures is a 2008 article published in the Journal of Air Transport Management. There is actually quite a lot of sophisticated modeling of airplane boarding with various strategies like “Rotating Zone,” “Reverse Pyramid,” and “Flying Carpet.” (Background on all of them is here). The research is based on mathematical simulations in which people are assumed to behave like Econs. Assuming airline customers eventually learned about the purpose for random boarding and some of the early chaos died down, it’s still not clear it’s the right strategy.

“Our data confirms that pure random boarding is faster,” said Sandy Stelling, Alaska Airlines’ managing director of airport services. “However, we determined the negative impact, measured by our customers — elite Mileage Plan members and non-elites alike — was not worth the small gain in time.”

Airplane boarding isn’t quite as elegant as the models make it.

 

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Everything is more extreme in the air, even the class divide. The airline deliberately accentuates the gap between club and economy, so passengers know what they’re missing out on. They like the economy passengers to see those trays of champagne being taken into club class. It’s all part of making them feel dissatisfied in the hope they may upgrade next time.

From an anonymous airline employee writing in the Guardian.

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Type “OIRA dashboard” into Google. The first hit? RegInfo.gov, a new web site that demystifies the opaque subject of rules and regulation in Washington by enabling people to track their progress throughout a review process.

The site’s launch coincides with Nudge co-author Cass Sunstein’s first public remarks since taking over the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the office in charge of reviewing, developing, and overseeing regulations across the federal government. Speaking at an American University law school conference, Sunstein emphasized that OIRA’s goal is to create regulatory policy for Humans, not Econs; “homo sapiens rather than homo economicus,” he explained.

As an example, he cited a set of recently released rules intended to discourage airlines from pulling away from the gate and sitting near a runway, essentially trapping people on planes for unknown periods of time.

The basic idea is if you’re flying domestically, and you can’t be kept on the tarmac for more than three hours, and you get food and water and medical care if you need it within two hours. That rule is accompanied by an extremely disciplined analysis of its cost and benefits. If we’re imposing financial burdens on airlines, we want to catalog them as best we can, and make sure the benefits justify the action.

You can listen to Sunstein’s remarks here.

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Disaggregation meets disclosure in the world of air travel:

The airlines are aware that customers shop around online and that they hate trying to figure out fees. So they are currently working with other ticket distributors on a complex system that (Rick Seaney, the chief executive of FareCompare.com) said will expand the fee checklists and allow all distributors, whether an airline itself or an online travel agency, to be more uniformly precise in just what a customer is ordering.

“They’ll present a base ticket price in three or four categories, and then you’ll have a bunch of things you can add,” Mr. Seaney said. “You’ll get a base price quote, and then you’ll have a bunch of columns with choices that add something to the ticket. You going to see a whole new slew of amenities that you pay for in advance.”

…(And airline fare pricing) committee is evaluating the universe of fee-based extra services, and drawing up lists of uniform codes to make it easier to “compare apples to apples,” Mr. Seaney said. Among the items on that growing list are the usual things like prepaid checked bag (code 0AA), snack (0AT), aisle seat exit row (0A5), beverage (0AX), video games (0AF), passenger assistance (0BY) and wheelchair (0AH).

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