United boarding passengers: am I missing something?

Most airlines (unlike Southwest/Jetblue?) have assigned seating for their passengers. I travelled United when this I flew to Chicago (more on this later maybe),and something puzzled me. Maybe someone who reads this can help. Passengers along with their seat numbers are assigned a seat area (1-4) and seating areas are boarded in ascending order.

Now, why people rush for their seats when they have assigned seating (assuming the baggage storage space isn't a big consideration) is another human psychology conundrum, but anyway... People do rush: they stand in line for the longest time, and when their seating area is announced ("Section 1 may board now") they rush towards the gate, knocking children and old people on the way, knowing well they may have to wait again for quite a while, as people in front of them take their seats.

Now, airlines make a big deal of optimizing their gate turnaround time. So why on earth would they have people board in an order that is bound to generate queues and be slower? People take time to stow their baggage, get into their seats etc. and hold up people behind them who're typically trying to get to seats behind.

Isn't the logical thing to do, to ask people who're going to be sitting at the back of the plane to board first? Assuming that people continue this not-completely-understood-by-me behavior of rushing on to the plane, you should have less incidents of people being held up, and theoretically complete boarding faster. What am I missing here?

The only thing I could think of was that it might be some kind of prestige issue: you want first-class to board first, and the rest follows. Since now United is price-discriminating, they may want the people who've paid more for the economy seats in front to get on first. About the price-discrimination tactic btw: as always, the student of business in me strongly approves, the human in me is indignant.:)


shmoo said…
Yeah, people with higher service classes get seated first, but then after that they board outside in. So windows board before aisles. I think some study showed that was the fastest.

I'd normally like to spend as little time as possible on the plane, BUT I want to make sure I have room for my bag in the overhead, and therefore like to board early. I think most people think the same way.
Josekin said…
Agree with Shmoo. And the added anxiety when you think, "wait a minute, I got my front rows because I arrived early, and now those smucks who arrived late in the airport get to go first and slip they luggage in my storage space!?"

I personally like to board first so I can sit down, switch off the world, and read. And I also don't like getting onto a plane where everybody, front or back, are moving around and lifting luggage and stuff.
Josekin said…
Oh... and I wonder if I can agree with your hypothesis that boarding from the back is the most efficient. While it sounds intuitive that boarding from the last window row makes the most sense, there's also Southwest - not assigning seats means you board from front to end. Yet Southwest has one of the shortest turnarounds of all airlines!

And if you take a poll: I'd say customers who paid more would still value a shorter turn around time. Hard to convince though.
Satyajeet said…
- Right, what I said only holds for assigned seating.

- And given that now everyone is allowed just two pieces of hand baggage, how likely is it that you'll not find storage space around your seat?
Anonymous said…
Yes, they board front to back because if you board the back first then the folk at the back all stow their luggage over the front seats... which causes chaos when the dude in row 6 has to go back to row 46 to stow his bag... and same for the dude in row 5...

I'm 1k on United and still like to board early so I can guarantee somewhere to put my bag. Does it make a difference? Absolutely, and "gate-check" is so unreliable you don't want to risk it.

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