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Following the instructions for a stress-free journey

Louise Brooke-Smith explains the significance of Easyjet's recent initiative for people to take their seats in a logical order.

The recent initiative by EasyJet at Gatwick Airport of calling people to take their seats in a logical order to speed things up and keep frustrations to a minimum might not sound like groundbreaking news. Indeed, the saving of a couple of minutes on a plane’s boarding procedures could be seen by some as de minimus.

But as anyone who has been held up by a numpty who seems incapable of understanding that seat numbers run sequentially through a plane, or a gaggle of siblings who can’t decide who sits next to the window, a couple of minutes can seem like an eternity, especially when you are balancing an excessively overloaded cabin bag on your knee and hoping you can lob it into the overhead locker without causing life-long back problems. No, those couple of minutes could turn the journey from hell into a flight of joy through the clouds.

Something so simple as getting on a plane in order of where you will be sitting; who’d have thought of that? But such a mind-boggling approach would still depend on the travelling public actually taking directions from the aircrew and taking their turn to get on the plane. Human nature and indeed cultural experience, sadly, isn’t always that obliging. The long-standing and very vocal ‘tutting’ of every Brit standing in a queue when ‘Johnny and Jemima foreigner’ push to the front, unaware of the cultural etiquette being blown out of the water, is testament to that.

How could something so logical and simple as taking your seat on a plane become so newsworthy? Perhaps it’s simply light relief from the Brexit saga, or anticipation of the potential tit-for-tat fake news exchange that inevitably arises during the run-up to a general election?

Whatever the reason, EasyJet has hit on a couple of things worth highlighting. Saving a couple of minutes of boarding time, from the perspective of airport traffic control, could mean the difference between a pilot having breathing space and easily hitting the take-off slot – as opposed to having to wait in the queue for the next suitable gap. Just think of the impact on connecting flights. No need for passengers to run like an Olympian from terminal 1 to terminal 3 in an impossible 10-minute gap.

“EasyJet has hit on a couple of things that are worth highlighting”

And then there is the impact on wellbeing on board; passengers with little if any stress because everyone in front of them has packed their stuff away and is already sitting in place, buckled up, smiling and ready to fly.

Am I being optimistic? Yes, because human nature will still come to the fore and cultural norms will be tricky to budge. There will always be the traveller who doesn’t understand, the numpty who thinks he should have priority regardless and little Freddie who has decided to sit next to daddy by the window after all.

Some people will listen to the announcements and look at the screens that clearly indicate which seats can board next. They will see the logic and the bigger picture. But it only takes one or two to disrupt the system and the house of cards falls down – especially if one of those cards is held by a passenger who has grossly exceeded their hand luggage limit and is trying to cram all of it overhead.

The moral of this story? Great ideas that can have a cumulative, positive impact can be simple. But they will only work if those playing the game listen, adhere to the rules, don’t let cultural norms get in the way or feel the instructions don’t apply to them. All our connections would work, we would enjoy the company of those around us – and, of course, enjoy a stress-free journey.

Happy Christmas!   

Dr Louise Brooke-Smith is a development and strategic planning consultant and a built environment non-executive director




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