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Alex Bäcker's Wiki / Airplanes that board and unboard as fast as trains
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Airplanes that board and unboard as fast as trains

Page history last edited by Alex Backer, Ph.D. 12 years ago

A train can be in and out of a station in seconds. It typically takes an airplane more than an hour to do the same. Why are trains so fast to board and unboard and airplanes so slow?

It seems there are four main culprits:


1. Security lines: Trains are in principle and in practice just as susceptible to terrorism as airplanes --a train can carry more people than a plane, a bomb in one early wagon can derail the whole train, and a Google search for train and terrorism reveals more hits than one for airplane and terrorism and one for plane and terrorism. So there is no excuse for security to be slower in one than the other. And the search for one traveler itself is not slow --the delays are due to scheduling issues, which can be solved with QLess technology.

2. Boarding and deplaning: Airplanes are notoriously slow to board and deplane. What makes trains faster? It boils down to the number of entrances and exits per passenger: trains have many, planes have few. But planes have more doors than are usually used, and there is no good reason that planes and airports could not be built to board and deplane passengers faster in parallel. The exits need not take away seat space; as emergency exits do today, they can double-up as walls and windows.

3. Checking and claiming baggage: Airplanes are slow to board and deplane in great part because of the need to check luggage in and then reclaim it. Indeed, passengers with no checked luggage can arrive to the airport later and leave the airport earlier. Trains solve this by letting people carry their own luggage into and out of the train. There is no reason this cannot be accomplished in airplanes.

4. Take-off and landing: Once again, no reason this cannot be done better for airplanes. Trains have a bottleneck departing a station: only one train can leave on a given railway at a time. Worse, it takes longer for a (long) train to leave the station than for an airplane to take off. True, multiple railways can coexist side by side, but so can multiple landing strips. Most importantly, take-off and landing delays are not due to the time it takes to take-off or land, but rather due to scheduling mishaps that lead to queueing. All it takes for a timely take-off is a proper schedule.


Some small planes traveling out of and into small airports already work more or less like this --witness Southwest flights into and out of Burbank airport. But there is no reason this cannot work for big planes and big airports --it just requires some changes in airplanes and airports.


Can you imagine the benefits that would accrue to the first airline to implement these measures? Land time for an airplane accounts for huge costs for airlines, both because the time an airplane is grounded it cannot be flying and earning money, and because airports charge for it. Plus can you imagine the differentiating factor in recruiting passengers for an airline that you could show up for just minutes in advance, baggage and all?



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