Stand-up comedians everywhere mourn as it seems they might be about to lose another bit about plane travel. Testing has shown that boarding by "zones" is by no means the most efficient ways possible to fill a plane full of angry, sweaty, gassy passengers. It also shows the most efficient way.

Plane travel involves a lot of 'hurry up and wait.' People hurry to book tickets, then wait to book seats. They hurry to check in and get through security, then wait in the lounge. They hurry to get in line to board the plane in their seating block, then wait while the people in front of them stow their luggage and leap-frog over each other for the window seat. Some waiting is necessary â€” it's better than 'hurry up and miss.' But some waiting could be significantly cut down, especially if people stop boarding the plane in the most efficient-sounding way.

Often, planes are seated in blocks. Everyone in rows 19-27 will line up and hop aboard the plane. This seating arrangement is generally done back-to-front, with the people at the back of the plane boarding first. Although it sounds efficient, block-seating is the least efficient way of seating the plane possible. Within this least-efficient way, there's a slight increase in efficiency if the plane is boarded back-to-front, rather than front-to-back. Still block seating is significantly less efficient than completely random seating. Also, some airlines use what's known as the "WilMA" method (Window, Middle, Aisle), in which passengers with window seats are seated first. But that's also not the most efficent method, either.

Jason Steffen, of the Fermilab, decided to get empirical, and discover the actual most efficient way of boarding a plane. Instead of boarding in blocks, passengers should board in groups of about ten at a time. The ten boarding passengers should be seated in every other row. The act of stowing luggage tends to take up about two rows, and so each person who gets on will have ample room to take their magazines out of their carry on before stowing it in the overhead compartment. The plane should still be boarded back-to-front, but zebra-striping the whole process makes it much, much faster.

Which doesn't really matter, since once everyone's on board, people still have to wait for the flight to take off.

Via Discover Blogs and Arxiv(Full Text PDF).