The NY Times has some cool graphics accompanying article about airline boarding systems. It's possibly the second worst part of the flight, jockeying for overhead compartments and waiting for people to be seated so you can find your seats.

In hopes of trying to shorten the boarding, which can add up to financial savings, different airlines use different tactics to deal with boarding, including back to front, rotating zone, outside-in, and the reverse pyramid ("rear window and middle first, front window and middle next, followed by rear aisle, then front aisle"). The outside-in and reverse pyramid have shorter boarding times than others, but one flaw we see is that people who are seated together will have to board one by one - an impossibility for families.

Anyway, there are some other obstacles to these computer modeled scenarios:

The variable that keeps upsetting the airline industry’s careful planning is the unpredictability of human behavior. The industry calls it “interference,” and it means time-killing activities like elderly passengers perching on armrests to stuff a bag into the overhead bin.

Those elderly time killers! Which is why some people say that stricter carry-on procedures, as evinced by this past August's TSA crackdown, are more effective at reducing the time it takes to load a plane.

Have you noticed any new airline boarding procedures? We have never understood airlines that board front to back. But the worst part of the flight is when the pilot switches off the seatbelts-required sign when the plane is at the gate - those moments of everyone jumping up at once and readying to step on each other to get off can be frightening.