February 20, 2012
It drives me nuts when I see how inefficient airline boarding systems are. Some airlines are better than others, but generally speaking, it’s a poorly designed system. What we need is an innovation I call the tube plane.
My idea is that the entire passenger cabin would be separate from the rest of the plane, like a shotgun shell waiting to be put in the shotgun. Passengers would take their seats in the cabin “tube,” located in the airport terminal. When the airplane arrives, it lines up with the terminal and smoothly ejects its current passenger tube, along with their checked luggage, to the terminal area. The new cabin tube is lined up and smoothly inserted into the airplane shell. The entire process should take about two minutes.
I suppose you’d still have to wait for refueling, unless the fuel tank is removable as well. A separate system could be at work exchanging the used fuel tank with a full one while the passengers are being loaded.
I can imagine my larger luggage – the bags I currently check – located in a shelf compartment below the floor near my seat, accessible until the passenger tube is inserted into the plane shell. That way, when I arrive at the terminal, I just step down from the seating area and grab my bags. No waiting at baggage claim.
Perhaps the passenger tube would be placed on a railroad-type track when it arrives at the terminal, and the whole thing would be taken by rail to an area near ground transportation first, and then on to the parking lot.
I can also imagine the airplanes of tomorrow requiring no pilots and no crews. Modern airplanes pretty much fly themselves now, and it won’t be long before emergency situations can be handled entirely from the ground, the same way drones are controlled. The more advanced planes are probably already there.
Currently, flight attendants are safety workers disguised as food servers. It would be easy to replace the food delivery function. People can buy food at the terminal and bring it with them. Or passengers can order food on the ground before their passenger tube is inserted in the airplane shell.
The safety function that flight attendants perform is, in large part, for psychological comfort. If your flight plows into the side of a mountain, your flight attendant won’t be much help. Realistically, most of the airline safety procedures could be eliminated or handled in another way. You might need one “bouncer” on each flight in case someone becomes a problem to the other passengers. And you wouldn’t need to pay these bouncers if you offered free flights to anyone willing to take a training class to become certified and wear a distinctive vest on flights. I could imagine active police officers, paramedics, and firefighters enrolling in that type of program.
On my most recent flight, a passenger had a medical emergency. I was sitting next to an emergency room doctor and his fiancé, a hospital nurse. The doctor handled the emergency, not the flight attendants. The best safety procedures might involve knowing who has what type of skills on each flight.
Like most of my ideas, this one is craptastically impractical. It requires too much investment and infrastructure. But I like fantasizing about the possibilities as I stand in line watching all the frequent fliers board before I do.