Service Process Re-design of Airline Boarding Essay Example

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Service Process Re-design of Airline Boarding

Table of Contents


3United Airlines boarding process

4Boarding process of various airlines

6Re-designing United Airline’s boarding process

7Service Design Process

7Central issue

8Service Strategy

8Service Concept

8Service Blueprints

9Supporting Processes Recommended




Designing a new service covers a range of activities, including formulating a new service, completely to improve an existing one by altering some of its features. Despite the extent of the service design issues, the design of the service delivery process should cater for particular needs of the customers (Davis & Heineke, 2010). Therefore, an effective design approach should identify the features of an ideal service, such as when specific times that customers should be served, where the service should take place and who should serve the customers (Harteveldt, 2012). Integrating such customer-related issues into the service design process can ensure that customer satisfaction is attained. This report examines United Airlines’ boarding process with the view of redesigning the process to ensure improved service process.

United Airlines boarding process

United Airlines (UA839 Los Angeles 0610-0622) is an American Airline based in Chicago, Illinois. It operates across the globe, including Australia, Asia, Europe and Africa. United Airlines uses outside-in boarding process. The airline has dubbed the outside-in boarding as WilMA, short for ‘window, middle, aisle’ (SeatGuru, 2014).

The airline boards elites, such as ‘Mileage Plus Premier’ and ‘Mileage Plus 1K’. Once the elites are aboard, the airline provides courtesy boarding for passengers who need additional assistance. Passengers are afterwards, aboard the window seats, followed by the middle seats and lastly the aisles. United Airline’s rationale for using this process is since it is believed it can speed up boarding, as well as, reduce passenger congestion at the aisles (BoardingArea, 2014).

Accordingly, passengers designated for the window seats shift to their seats to clear space for passengers meant for the middle-seats, who afterwards clear room for the aisle passengers (BoardingArea, 2014). Basing on the zones, disabled people, elite frequent flyers and passengers who are travelling along with small children are requested to board ahead of board Zone 1. As indicated in Figure 1. First class passengers are allocated seat group 1. Window seats are 2, Middle seat at 3 and aisle seats at 4.

Service Process Re-design of Airline Boarding

Figure 1: seat plan United Airlines

Boarding process of various airlines

Even as airlines policies differ, no standard way exists that outlines airline boarding. A survey of the airline industry shows that having the passengers’ line at the gate as they wait to board the plane is far from being efficient. There are a number of ways for boarding planes, with the commonest one being random, rotating zone, outside-in, rear to front, zone/block style, and reverse pyramid (SeatGuru, 2014).


Most airlines such as JetBlue, American Airlines, Continental, British Airways, Spirit, Virgin Atlantic, Alaska, Frontier and Air Canada use the back-to-front boarding process. In the case of JetBlue, this airline start with pre-boarding, dubbed the Silent Boarding. The service must however be requested beforehand. It is intended for individuals who have requested or seem to require extra time for boarding, such as passengers with children and disabled persons (Chemi, 2014).

However, an announcement is not made as indicated by the name ‘silent boarding’. This inconveniences passengers. Once the group is aboard, focus shifts to the priority boarding researched for the Even More Space and Mosaic customers. Mosaic constitutes an elite level program that has a range of benefits such as preferred seating, bonus points, priority security lane and dedicated customer-service line (SeatGuru, 2014). Even More Space is reserved for individuals who require more legroom. Afterwards, passengers with children under the age of two are invited to board, as well as other individuals who need extra time to board. This group has the Silent Boarding option and the separate pre-board option. Typically, passengers board from the rear of the plane towards the front in five row increments.

Virgin Atlantic also uses the standard back-to-front boarding process. In this method, elites board the plane fast followed by first class and business class passengers. Afterwards, disabled persons and passengers with children follow (SeatGuru, 2014). They occupy the first row of the economy (Main Cabin Select) in addition to the exit rows that allow them more leg room. Afterwards, the seats at the rear are taken by economy class passengers, followed by the middle section and finally the front area.

Service Process Re-design of Airline Boarding 1

Figure 2: seat plan for back-to-front strategy

This boarding process causes aisle and seat clogging, which leads to wasted time during boarding.

Southwest Airlines and US Airways use the random boarding process. In the case of Southwest, seats are not assigned to passengers. Boarding groups that have designated letters get the assigning at check-in. For passengers to get the ‘A’ seating area, which is often in demand, they have to check in online in advance. The airline allows the online check-in 24 hours before the scheduled flight takes off (Thomaselli, 2014).

US Airways also has random boarding process, although certain passengers are given priority, such as the elites who did online booking. For instance, passengers who need extra time for boarding, such as those with children aged 2 and below and the disabled children enter first followed by the Star Alliance Gild elites, frequent flyers and first class passengers (SeatGuru, 2014). Next, US Airways cardholders, Silver elite members and passengers who were charged more for Choice Seats follow. Later, economy passengers who booked online and who checked in at the airport follow in that order.

An advantage with this process is that passengers have an opportunity to select their preferred seats. A major disadvantage with this method is that it causes aisle interference, especially for customers who carry-on luggage.

Re-designing United Airline’s boarding process

A mix of outside-in and back-to-front boarding process is suggested as a replacement for the outside-in strategy that United Airlines uses. Integrating the two processes results to the reverse-pyramid boarding process is suggested. This proposed design is consistent with an empirical study by Briel (2005) and Steiner and Philipp (2009) that established that by boarding the window seat before the middle seats are occupied, and the middle seats ahead of the aisle seats, seat interferences are substantially reduced. In addition, aisle interferences are also significantly reduced.

The outside-in boarding process has however been criticised for causing bottlenecks during passenger boarding resulting to aisle interferences between passengers. In addition to customer discomfort, it reduces the plane turnaround time (Ates & Kagnicioglu, 2013). For instance, when two passengers are likely to experience aisle interference in the aisle, they can be made to enter the plane with sufficient gap in duration that the first passenger clears the aisle before the second passenger arrives (Briel et al., 2005).

This is since, when time between passengers who are boarding reduces, the likelihood of interference at the aisle increases. At the same time, since the time between the passenger decreases, the outside-in strategy with 6 passenger groups tends to show better performance compared to the back-to-front boarding process with 6 groups. Hence, the advantages of outside-in will compensate for the disadvantage of back-to-front. The same will happen in the case of the disadvantages of outside-in strategy (Briel et al., 2005).

Service Design Process

Central issue

The boarding process used by United Airways faces difficulties, as calling all elites to board is a challenge. Boarding with seat numbers takes a lot of time as passengers have to identify seats. It also creates bottlenecks thus hindering loading luggage in the overhead bins. Commotion and congestion created takes time to settle (BoardingArea, 2014).

A structure approach proposed by Shostack [1984 (as cited by Davis and Heineke (2010)], can be used to improve the United Airway’s service design process. The model systematically gathers data to design a process that meets customer needs (see Figure 3). It involves service strategy, service concept, service blue prints and supporting processes.

Service Process Re-design of Airline Boarding 2

Figure 3: Designing the Service Delivery Process Shostack (1984).

Service Strategy

United Airways needs to improve customer relationship and on-time record to reassert its good reputation and reliability. Customer satisfaction will to this end result from reduced frustration during the boarding level or increase level of service (Raymond et al., 2006).

Service Concept

A mix of outside-in and back-to-front boarding process is suggested. Integrating the two processes, results to the reverse-pyramid boarding process. This is since it links the service strategy and the service delivery process by improving customer experience.

Service Blueprints

The proposed boarding formula takes the features of multiple strategies. With the increased number of passenger groups boarding the plane, the ways in which they are distributed is altered. Put differently, it shifts from a mix of the middle aisle and window-middle seats, which is limited to the same groups with 3 groups. Eventually, it transforms into laminar form with 4 groups. What results are patterns that combine outside-in and back-to-front boarding process with 5 groups or more (Briel et al., 2005).

Supporting Processes Recommended

These include the elements that determine effective implementation of the proposed boarding process — or the recommendations. To facilitate the success rate of the new boarding patterns, it is recommended that measures such as organisational change and customer management measures should be implemented to encourage the new boarding process. In regards to organisational change management, specific tools such as colour-coded boarding seat and passes, in addition to training the staff to improve their understanding of the new boarding strategy is essential (Sabre Airlines, n.d.). When it comes to customer relationship management, United Airlines will need to publish the benefits of the new boarding process. Team2056 (2007) suggests that effective communication can encourage positive response from the customer in regards to the proposed changes.


United Airlines uses outside-in boarding process. Although it is far more efficient than the random boarding process used by Southwest Airlines and US Airways and Back-to-Front strategy used by most airlines such as JetBlue, American Airlines and British Airways, the model has some pitfalls. For instance, it creates bottlenecks that hamper loading luggage in the overhead bins. Commotion and congestion created takes time to settle. A mix of outside-in and back-to-front boarding process is therefore proposed. Integrating the two processes results to the reverse-pyramid boarding process is suggested.


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