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There are quite a number of publications about airplane boarding which all usually begin with something like:

Boarding is an expensive process that costs so much, that by reducing the boarding time airlines could save a lot of money.

However, none of the publications I've read says explicitly why the costs are reduced. Of course there is at least one obvious reason:

  • A shorter ground time reduces delays and thus the number of missed connecting flights, leading to fewer liabilities.

Further there is the possibility that a plane can do an additional flight during the day. But if a plane does 5 flights a day and saves 5 minutes per boarding, then the resulting 25 minutes would not suffice (at least in countries with start restrictions over the night).

So therefore the question: What factors play a role in saving money by reducing boarding time?

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    $\begingroup$ It should also probably be noted that quicker boarding doesn't necessarily mean faster turn-around times. Faster boarding won't get the bags loaded/unloaded any faster, the fuel loaded in faster, the pre-flight inspections performed any faster, etc. Faster boarding only decreases turn-around time when they're actually waiting on the last passenger to get on to depart (which, at least in my experience, isn't very often, though it does happen sometimes.) $\endgroup$ – reirab Aug 12 '15 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ According to a study by Boeing, boarding time is the biggest contributor to turn around time. After 30 mins at the gate/stand Heathrow starts charging widebody aircraft £210 an hour. After 24 hours, if you don't vacate when asked, the rate goes up eightfold. $\endgroup$ – RedGrittyBrick Aug 12 '15 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ @RedGrittyBrick how much does it charge for the first half hour? $\endgroup$ – Holloway Aug 12 '15 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ @trengot: no parking charge for first 30 mins $\endgroup$ – RedGrittyBrick Aug 12 '15 at 17:09
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It's not as much boarding as much as standing around does not generate any revenue.

  • Use Your Capital Assets: 25 minutes a day is a lot, and in some cases is equivalent to a domestic leg. Rather than arriving at 23:00, you could arrive at 22:30 and still squeeze in an additional short flight before midnight. If you're flying 10 flights a day and you can now fly 11, you're doing 10% more work with the same amount of assets. Estimates for a flight hour of a B737 are ≅ \$3000-\$3500 in the US, for an aircraft worth perhaps $60 million.

  • Fixed Costs: You're looking at a bit of fixed costs, such as insurance. The more flying time you can squeeze out of the plane, the cheaper each hour will become on average.

  • Less Staff, More Product: You need a certain number of ground staff. If you can cut the time required for an aircraft to be handled by ground staff by 20% (50 → 40 minutes), that potentially means that they could handle an additional aircraft in their shift. This principle applies for airline flight crew, as well. It's a lot cheaper to let the your pilot fly a few hours more than needing to hire another one.

  • Standing around is not always cheap either: Depending on airport cost/fee structure, you may be charged less for the ground time. This is not only standing around; for instance, Munich airport charges you €44 for every 30 minutes of using a ground power unit.

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  • $\begingroup$ As well as the plane not going anywhere, sitting on the tarmac waiting for the squishy cargo to board eats up the crew's on-duty time. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Aug 12 '15 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby in lack of proper knowledge I left that point out, since some airlines go for duty time by chocks on/off the wheels at the stand for instance, and I'm not sure how ground stops are counted. $\endgroup$ – Thunderstrike Aug 12 '15 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, OK. I wasn't even aware of that variation so good call on leaving it out. :-) $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Aug 12 '15 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeFoxtrot duty time is different than pay time and encompasses all of the time from your show time until the end of your day and has hard regulatory limits and often stricter limits mandated by CBA. $\endgroup$ – casey Aug 12 '15 at 19:38
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Finishing boarding of a particular flight on a particular day faster than average won't help much to reduce costs, as the airline has to compute flight schedules weeks or months in advance, so they have to calculate average boarding times for a particular aircraft, and factor that into schedules.

If the airlines could bring the average boarding time down, they could fit more flights, tighten up the timing of legs and itineraries, and lower the asset-hour per passenger-hour ratio, which would result in aggregate cost savings in gate costs, personnel costs, fuel, insurance, and financing costs.

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