Airlines took to a back-to-front boarding process in response to the global pandemic. The approach is inspired by the desire to lessen the likelihood of passengers passing close to seated passengers when they take their seats. However, researchers show that back-to-front boarding approximately doubles the infection exposure when compared to random boarding.

For example, Delta Airlines rolled out a boarding procedure where passengers board the plane starting from the last row. Furthermore, the U.S. airline only boards ten passengers at a time. United Airlines uses a back-to-front row boarding process with business boarding last typically. Across the industry, several changes were adopted, including blocking out middle seats to persuade passengers that it was safe to get back on a plane.

The research team highlights that the boarding from back-to-front method intensifies the chances of exposure by around 50% when compared to a normal boarding process before the global pandemic set in. Based on the use of pedestrian dynamics simulations to compare the new boarding processes against alternatives, the team came up with the impacts and results published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

Scientists from various institutions, including the Florida State University and the University of West Florida, performed simulations of around 16,000 potential passenger movements for the scientific study. The researcher teams reiterated that the new policies did not improve on the old ones in any situation. New modelling also found that passengers tend to cluster more in the aisle as they board from back to front. The approach naturally upsurges the passengers’ exposure risk to infection.

The study highlighted that greater risk occurs when passengers are in close contact, especially in the same rows, clustering in the aisle as they try to stow their luggage. In its place, the scientific study suggests prohibiting the use of overhead bins to store luggage and boarding the window seat before the aisle seat could reduce the risk of infection.