This is more in relation to flights which have a single class of passengers with a short haul flight duration. Why don't airlines adopt random seating arrangement i.e. first come first serve basis. We already see business class passengers of having the flexibility of boarding at their own convenience.

This might solve the problem of boarding, and might also encourage people to board quickly.

To solve the issue of cabin baggage, we could have dedicated space for each passenger, by dividing the existing baggage space by the number of seats below. This would take care of 'greedy' passengers. Also, passengers can check beforehand if they are carrying excess luggage.

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    $\begingroup$ This would solve the problem of boarding, and would also encourage people to board quickly - what evidence do you have to support this claim? I can see it bringing out the worst in some people and a chaotic, inefficient "free for all". $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Aug 5, 2015 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ I can't answer why won't airliners allow for random sitting arrangement, but I can tell you that the method of random sitting arrangement would be a faster way for filling up the cabin, but it is not the fastest technique. I use the information from a Nova episode (S41E03) called, Making Stuff Faster. $\endgroup$
    – TBBT
    Aug 5, 2015 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Simon: Edited the question, apologies for my poor grammar $\endgroup$
    – Firee
    Aug 5, 2015 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ UK's big low cost airline used to do this, but reverted to allocated seating a couple of years ago. I can tell you that far from being efficient, it was the expected free-for-all, and therefore was a nightmare. You try battling through 100 people desperate for their favourite seat when you have 2 small kids and a pushchair to get boarded. Not fun at all. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Aug 5, 2015 at 13:07

2 Answers 2


The Mythbusters tested various boarding patterns in their previous season (see the digest here, full episode here) and came to the conclusion that "random-random" (close to Southwest-style) was the fastest way to board (though the least liked), and that the current most common method among traditional airlines (back to front) was the slowest. Alternate styles including two forms of "WILMA" boarding (Window-Middle-Aisle, United does this) and "Reverse Pyramid" style (which U.S. Airways used to use) were both fast and very well-liked by the volunteers. I have some issues with their testing methods though:

  • They only allowed for a single test of each boarding plan, using the same group of volunteers each time. That means two things:
    • Order of testing matters, because your group will generally become accustomed to getting on and off a plane, which will speed things up as the day progresses.
    • Any "noise" inherent in a variable of the test that you are neither controlling nor testing cannot be cancelled out and can skew the results.
  • They tested the control (back to front) first, meaning their volunteers were totally unfamiliar with the "plane" and thus would be expected to be slowed by inefficiencies born of this unfamiliarity. If no other test were repeated, it should have been this one (at the beginning and end of the day) to compensate for this.
  • First/business class were always boarded first (this is common but not universal among airlines), while every other ticketed passenger regardless of age was boarded according to their individual seat, with only "lap children" boarding with their parent (airlines nowadays require a ticket and seat for anyone over 2yo, so boarding families with pre-adolescents was not really tested). This is opposed to other variables such as overloaded passengers, guys heading "upstream" to the lavatory etc which they sprinkled in to spice up each boarding experience.

One final thing; boarding faster only means you're sitting in a cramped airliner seat longer. Getting passengers aboard an airplane is usually the easiest and quickest part of turning an airliner around. Unloading/loading baggage, refueling, preflight checks etc all take longer in the aggregate than anything going on inside the cabin.

  • $\begingroup$ I have now seen the video and think that the experiment should have been carried out at an actual airport $\endgroup$
    – Firee
    Aug 7, 2015 at 9:34

Unless I misunderstand you, many airlines already do this. You buy a ticket, you join a queue and you sit in the first available seat that is acceptable to you.

I find it leads to fitter younger people sprinting to the front and leaving the old and frail with the worst seats. Some airlines prioritize boarding for adults accompanying children and a few other categories.

As ManuH commented. Unallocated seating often leads to families being separated inside the cabin and sometimes to prolonged multi-way pre-take-off negotiations with other passengers to try to arrange swaps to get a seat in the same general region of the plane as your loved ones.

Personally I find a preallocated seat number and boarding prioritised by row number leads to a more civilised experience and fewer scrums arise in the aisles as prior passengers try to stuff luggage into overhead lockers above seats near the doors.

There are many ways of defining "best", speed of boarding is only one of them. This is perhaps why no airline yet bales up their passengers and loads them by forklift.

I recall the USAF has seats attached to freight pallets that it uses for troop transport, maybe the future of aviation is to be strapped into your seat in the departure lounge and be mechanically loaded from one end of the fuselage?

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    $\begingroup$ This is done on European low cost carrier, and leads to passengers traveling together to be spread along the aircraft as first boarded takes seat next to an empty seat, resulting in remaining empty seats isolated $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Aug 5, 2015 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ "I find it leads to fitter younger people sprinting to the front and leaving the old and frail with the worst seats" - The first couple of rows could be blocked for old and children $\endgroup$
    – Firee
    Aug 5, 2015 at 10:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Firee: How many rows would you block off for middle aged people with a stiff knee? In practice, the sort of airlines that use free-for-all seating, in my experience (first encountered this in Oahu - relatively OK and later in Belfast - not so OK) did not rope off seats, they just give the slower pax a head start before unleashing the frustrated frenzied trampling rabble at them. $\endgroup$ Aug 5, 2015 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the last paragraph, we've got you covered. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Aug 5, 2015 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ My last paragraph was written tongue in cheek. $\endgroup$ Aug 7, 2015 at 15:34

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