The airline seat you choose can make a difference.
But it all depends on how the airline boards everyone.
Curious about which strategy was fastest, Mythbusters recreated the boarding experience. Using 173 volunteers, real flight attendants and a simulated airport waiting area and airplane interior, they timed different possibilities.
As you can see in their video (below), the back to front method that American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit, Air Canada, Frontier and Virgin America all use is the slowest. With back to front, the aisle clogs because people in the middle seats are always getting up for the person near the window. Meanwhile, waiting and looking for overhead bin space means we stay in the aisle longer.
From slowest to fastest, the next best alternatives are random line-up with assigned seats, then outside-in with all window seats going first and then finally, entirely random order and no assigned seats. Used by Southwest, entirely random works because any slowdown creates the incentive for people to quickly take the most accessible seat. And yet, the Southwest method is one of the least liked.
Although it is close to half the back-to-front time, outside-inside (aka WILMA–window/middle/aisle) is only used by United.
And, according to Boeing, between 1968 and 1998, the “flow rate” slowed from 20 passengers a minute to 9.
Our Bottom Line: Airline Productivity
We might think that faster turnaround time means more for the airlines’ bottom line. Not necessarily. Yes, faster boarding saves money. But perhaps those priority boarding fees are one reason that it takes so long to board.
Boeing had this turnaround task chart that was interesting: