Why Don’t Airplanes Speed Up Passenger Loading By Using More Doors?

Why Don’t Airplanes Speed Up Passenger Loading By Using More Doors?

What might seem like a missed opportunity is actually quite strategic.

By Aly Walansky

We've all been there: Whether it's being stalled in an aisle, waiting for people ahead of you to take their seats, or taking forever to get off a plane once we land, both boarding airplanes and deplaning seem to take a lot longer than necessary. Have you ever found yourself staring at a closed aircraft door, wondering why it's not open to passengers as a way of making the whole tedious process go faster?

Of course, there's a reason for this: Experts say you're actually wrong if you think it would solve the problem without creating new ones. “Most aircraft are small enough that using both doors wouldn't deliver a net benefit for boarding time when balanced with the resources needed to shuffle passengers onto the tarmac — a TSA headache — and up a mobile boarding ramp or staircase,” says Richard Gonzales, aviation consultant with Briscoe Group and Air Force reserve pilot.

Of course, there are exceptions: On large, wide-body airliners, airlines do use the second door for boarding because of the increased number of passengers, says Gonzales. “Those aircraft are assigned to modified gates with two jet bridges. “

Real estate is a significant part of the issue. Most airports have jet bridges that take up a lot of space, and the trend is to slot as many airplanes as possible into the gates to meet the increasing demands for passenger volume. "To add another jet bridge to each gate would be extremely expensive and is simply limited to the space available," says B2 Aviation founder Bernie Burns.

There are a couple of reasons you don't see dual jet bridges utilized for narrow-body aircraft: “Typically, an airline doesn't see enough of a return on the investment of an added, and more complicated, jet bridge and additional gate agent to justify the 10 minutes they may save during the boarding process. The economics of this marginal return on time for investment coupled with the risk of aircraft damage from these more complicated jet bridge systems have forced airlines to abandon these sorts of ventures,” says flight attendant Eddie Jorge.

Security and liability are also a significant part of the problem. Burns says, "In the current airport structure, the best way to facilitate dual boarding would be to allow passengers to access the airports tarmac to to board. As it stands now, the airports that currently deploy dual boarding with any frequency, do so by walking passengers near the aircraft and onto stairs to load the aircraft."

The idea of walking passengers through a secured ramp and among potentially hazardous machinery and liquids is a huge legal liability. "The airlines and airports that take on that risk also have a financial obligation to hire more staff with the sole purpose of ensuring that the passengers stay in the safe zones while en route to the airplane stairs," Burns says. "They typically have at least two to three extra sets of eyes for each airplane that departs."

Behind the scenes, airlines have tried plenty variations to test theories. “A decade ago, United Airlines experimented with dual jet bridges at its Denver hub," Jorge says. "They used an automated jet bridge that utilized laser-guided sensors to align with the rear doors of its 737, 757, and A320 fleets. These bridges were Y-shaped, with one end extended to the main entry door and another attachment that extended over the wing to door 2L — the second/rear door on an A320, for example. After an incident in Denver [in] 2007 when the over-wing portion of one of the Y-bridges malfunctioned and damaged the wing of one of their Boeing 757s, United ceased dual bridge operations and eventually reverted those five gates to the standard configuration."

If you've flown on different airlines recently, you might've noticed each has its own boarding process. “It's a balancing act between keeping loyalty customers loyal, families together, and getting customers in their seats at just the right time — not too early or too rushed. That process won't change much until the infrastructure of airports is updated to offer more dual-loading jet bridges and the ground time is reduced for those functions mentioned earlier,” says Gonzalez.

And there you have it.

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