How to board an airplane?

Everyone knows how to board an airplane, back to front. It’s logical. Back to front means that if someone is taking their time in seat 21C the person in 20A can still seat themselves.

Physicist Jason Steffen built a computer model to see how much faster back to front was relative to front to back. He was shocked. The difference was minimal. Hmm, Steffen scowled at his code, is there a better way?

What if instead of 30 to 1 or 1 to 30, a plane boarded everyone in row 30, then rows 1, 2, 3…. That might work right? The folks in row 30 would have time to stow and seat without holding anyone up.

That kinda works. Steffen’s code continued and compared the 30, 1, 2…29 option to the 1, 2,…30 option. The code noted the faster sequence, and switched around two more numbers. Again it kept the faster option and computed another switcheroo. The fastest boarding process turned out to be boarding every other row.

“It turns the boarding process from a serial process, where one person gets to their place, puts their luggage away, and sits down into a parallel process where you send in fifteen people, say in all the even rows, and they all put their luggage away and sit down at the same time. And then you send in the next group of people.” – Jason Steffen, August 2021

Steffen’s code was a Markov Chain Monte Carlo, a way to solve problems through computer code and exploration. But like wet bias or wait times, ideal solutions may not be the best.

One problem with Steffen’s method is when people travel in groups, especially families. Another obstacle is the culture of air travel, there’s some established norms. Further confounding the case is an airline’s incentives. Faster turns do matter, but relative to upgrades how much does saving time save the company?

Travel budgets

Actions are the children of mindset and environment.

When running his document storage company, AJ Wasserstein created a travel budget. Budgets are good. Budgets are a design tool, and we are all designers.

Wasserstein’s budget wasn’t denominated in dollars, it was in days away from home

“One thing I did while working at Archives One was give myself a travel budget. I gave myself permission to travel a certain number of days a month. It wasn’t a financial budget, rather a nights-away-from-home budget. If I started to exceed that consistently, my role at the company needed to be cleaved and I had to hire someone to do part of what I was doing.” – AJ Wasserstein, Circle of Competence, June 2021

Wasserstein asked a different question. Rather than ask what was financially costly he asked what was socially costly and optimized for that. A lot of times we assume that the important is easily measured. Dollars? Yes. But other things too.

Reviews then pics

Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

Academic work can sometimes be inefficient. For example, people prefer to book hotels with nice pictures. Go figure.

In the paper, The role of photograph aesthetics on online review sites, the authors conclude that, “photos with professional aesthetics make a depicted destination appear more visually appealing, ultimately driving booking intentions.” Makes sense.

However, within this kind of obvious-in-hindsight research, wrinkles arise.

One group of participants was asked to imagine they were searching for hotels for a trip to Edinburgh. What was interesting was that, “if the review was positive, there was no significant difference in visual appeal between professional and amateur aesthetics.”

The difference between a professional and amateur photo is the difference in intention to book if just the pictures are shown. However, when people see reviews, the Kodachromae contrast doesn’t matter. Word of mouth type communciations matter.

The authors write in the discussion, “when the review was positive, participants viewed hotels as visually appealing in the amateur as in the professional setting.”

We believe in Alchemy and one way to do that is to create value for customers without changing the physical thing. In this case, that means past-guests conveying why something was nice.

We believe in JTBD approaches and one way to do that is find the goal of the customer. What is someone thinking when they book a room? It’s in that answer that the difference in photographs and reviews lies.