I discuss a model for free-for-all passenger boarding which is employed by some discount air carriers. The model is based on the principles of statistical mechanics, where each seat in the aircraft has an associated energy which reflects the preferences of travelers. As each passenger enters the airplane they select their seats using Boltzmann statistics, proceed to that location, load their luggage, sit down, and the partition function seen by remaining passengers is modified to reflect this fact. I discuss the various model parameters and make qualitative comparisons of this passenger boarding model with those that involve assigned seats. The model can be used to predict the probability that certain seats will be occupied at different times during the boarding process. These results might provide a useful description of this boarding method. The model is a relatively unusual application of undergraduate level physics and describes a situation familiar to many students and faculty.
Skip Nav Destination
PAPERS| December 01 2008
A statistical mechanics model for free-for-all airplane passenger boarding
Jason H. Steffen; A statistical mechanics model for free-for-all airplane passenger boarding. Am. J. Phys. 1 December 2008; 76 (12): 1114–1119. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.2982636
Download citation file: