Episode 197: Airplane Boarding

Air Date: December 16, 2012

When boarding an airplane, boarding back-to-front is the slowest method.

confirmed

To allow them to test various boarding methods, Adam and Jamie built an accurate replica of an airliner’s interior that included 173 real airplane seats as well as real overhead luggage compartments. Volunteers were staged at a simulated boarding gate and were given tickets with their seat assignments before each of the tests. To further simulate reality, 5% of the passengers were given instructions to behave problematically by going upstream, sitting in the wrong seat, boarding small children, or wasting time with folding a coat in the aisle. Professional flight attendants were also brought in to assist with the boarding process.

Each method of boarding was judged objectively on the time it took to board all of the passengers and subjectively by the passengers’ satisfaction after each boarding experience. The satisfaction score was calculated as a sum of votes wherein “great” votes earned 1 point, “neutral” votes earned 0 points, and “terrible” votes earned -1 points.

These were the results from the boarding methods that were tested:

Method Description Time Satisfaction
Back-to-front Business boarded first, then the zones were boarded starting in the back and moving to the front of the plane. 24:29 19
Random with seats Business boarded first, then all rows and all passengers were allowed to board. 17:15 12
WILMA Business boarded first, followed by all window seats, then all middle seats, then all aisle seats. 14:55 102
WILMA with blocks Business boarded first, followed by a combination of the back-to-front and WILMA methods; each zone was boarded with the WILMA method, starting in the back. 15:07 105
No assigned seats Business boarded first, then all other passengers chose their own seats. 14:07 -5
Reverse pyramid Business boarded first, followed by a sophisticated cascade of zones spreading from rear windows. 15:10 113

The back-to-front method proved to be the slowest method tested. It was noted that the fastest method (no assigned seats) ironically had the lowest satisfaction score, but there were also methods that much faster and much more satisfying (e.g. WILMA) than the back-to-front method.

A human tooth can be made into a bullet that is accurate, lethal, and undetectable after it shatters on impact.

busted

The build team chose to test three different types of firearms in this for this myth. They obtained real human teeth from a dentist to make their bullets. Kari made bullets for a handgun (.357 Magnum revolver). She chose not to shape the teeth in order to retain the hard enamel coating. Tory made shotgun shells using crushed up teeth. Grant made bullets for a rifle. He ground and shaped the teeth in order to improve their aerodynamics and accuracy. Grant also wanted to test this myth using bone instead of teeth, so he made additional bullets from a cow femur.

To test accuracy, the bullets were fired from a rig with normal ammunition, followed by the dental ammunition. The handgun with the unshaped bullets was found to be very inaccurate so no further tests were done with it. The shotgun’s accuracy was not affected by using teeth fragments as the shot. The power of the rifle destroyed the teeth bullets before they hit the target. The bone bullets in the rifle had reduced accuracy compared to lead bullets but they still hit the target.

For testing lethality, the bullets were fired at a ballistics gel target. 4 inches (10 cm) of penetration was deemed the benchmark for a lethal hit. Normal buckshot fired from the shotgun went all the way through the target (well over 4 inches). The teeth fragments only penetrated 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). Normal bullets from the rifle went clear through the target while a large bone bullet penetrated 6 inches (15 cm).

Finally, to test detectability, the bullets were fired at pig corpses which were stuffed with organs (the butcher could not sell them containing the organs). A pathologist was invited onto the show to determine if she could detect the cause of the wounds. In each case, the pathologist was able to retrieve the bullet fragments and identify them as foreign. She was even able to reconstruct the bone rifle bullet and reveal the rifling marks on it. Because none of the bullets met all of the conditions of the premise, it was declared busted.

26 Comments

  1. Tomas says:

    All methods judged as better by mythbusters don’t take into account that people sitting next to each other could be related. It could be disabled person or teen and his or her guardian. You can’t separate them when boarding the plane. “wilma block” could potentially handle tied pair, but not tied triple.

  2. Dirk says:

    Exactly what I was thinking while watching the episode. They only took single travelers into account.

  3. Terrance says:

    I got so annoyed because I was thinking the same thing as the two commenters before me.

  4. Richard says:

    If there is a parent on the window seat and a child in the middle, or the other way around, there can be exception for them. Still, maybe the back-to-front is a compromised way when considering all the factors.

  5. Dick says:

    To address the first three comments, I believe they did take into account families. It wasn’t always mentioned, but they seemed to always start with business and families (or priority boarding which includes those with young children, the disabled, unaccompanied minors and the elderly), before going with their chosen method.

  6. kendall says:

    the best method may be the way southwest airlines does it. once you’re past the ticket scanner and on the gangway, it’s the same as the random no seats method, and therefore fast. but getting to the gangway is structured and well-ordered, which i believe increases passenger satisfaction. also, they don’t charge extra for the first two checked bags, so there’s less carry-on luggage to be stowed overhead.

    no, i don’t work for southwest. :) i wish mythbusters had tried their method also. it would be nice to see the comparison.

  7. Yaka says:

    Richard:
    It is compromised, but it is no compromise. No matter which factors you consider, back to front is the worst. You literally can’t design a method that will take longer. It’s 10 minutes longer than the fastest boardings and has satisfaction far below average.

  8. pradumn the cs lover says:

    why dont u try a piece of bone instead of tooth and the forensics think that it is their part of their body only..

    • Spookie says:

      They tried that and the forensic expert spotted it immediately. Did you not read the thing you are criticizing?

  9. napsa says:

    They didn’t take into account those people, how aren’t at the gate when it’s opens or are late. And I don’t know how long gates are open in US, but when I have traveled in Europe gates are open at least 30 minutes, so that back-to-front method doesn’t slow anything.

    • liquid says:

      Of course it slow things down. When gates open 30 minutes before flight, it means, plane has to be at place let say 90 minutes before flight (60 minutes for preparations, but this is made up number). When you cut down boarding time to 15 minutes, plane can arrive 75 minutes before flight. Now imagine the plane flying back and forth during a day. You can save hours. That means you can save money (less man-hours needed) or you can use that plane to fly one more flight per day

  10. Nuhaantje says:

    I agree with most of you saying that traveling in groups wasn’t tested in the episode. To solve this, I came up with a solution, Big groups in the back, and single travelers in the front. A comparable method was introduced on KLM and AirFrance flight just over a year ago.
    Secondly, I don’t agree with the method that has been used on the ‘no assigned seating’ scenario. I flew with Easy Jet (a British low budget airliner) and they use this method. First of all, the use a double entrance system, where people walk over the tarmac to their air plain where they use stairs on both the front and back side of the plane. This improves time efficiency and gets rid of a lot of ‘panic’ secondly flight attendants were standing at the doors only letting a reduced amount of passengers in, again to avoid panic and improve time efficiency. by introducing an other way of structure this method can be very efficient. On all my flights with Easy Jet, boarding was finished in around 10 minutes.
    also I have to agree with @napsa (feb 27) that most airliners have plenty of time for boarding. I have worked as a ground handler. turnaround times are already very short, taking in mind that we have to unload passengers, clean the aircraft for the new passengers and board the aircraft, while at the same time unload their baggage, pump in new kerosene, and load their baggage as well as a structural examination (damage and if doors are proper locked).
    there is more work than boarding alone, so the properly confirm this mith/method, the is still a lot of work to do.

  11. Max says:

    What I still don’t get is why this episode didn’t air in the US.

  12. Frederick Michael says:

    May I suggest a test for more rapid deplaning?

    The way that rows normally empty one at a time is a perfect description of gridlock. If instead, the rule was to have everyone in the aisle exit without stopping, the plane would empty in half the time. After the “first flush” of the aisle, there would be room in the aisle for lots of people to be getting their bags out of the overheads.

    I really wish someone would try this.

  13. Max says:

    Seriously, why did nobody air this episode in the US?

  14. Eliza Royals says:

    Is it plausible for a braid of floss to pull the weight of two boys out of quick sand? Maybe like a 12 year old boy and a 15 year old boy?

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