Thursday, November 29, 2007

easyJet boarding game

One of the advantages of living in Geneva is the numerous easyJet destinations it offers. In the last 2 years easyJet took me to Budapest, Lisbon, London, Berlin and Edinburgh. As it is a low cost carrier, you don’t get a reserved seat. Rather, you get assigned to a boarding group, A, B, C or D, depending on how early you checked-in.

What struck me when boarding was the massive flow of uncivilised passengers wanting to get in fast, in order to get a good seat and enough space for their suitcase in the above compartment. Normally, group A passengers should go first when called by the agent, while others would politely wait for their turn. What explains this outcome? That Geneva people are uneducated savages would be my first guess but then I thought, who isn’t? My second guess would be that they are not really aware of the group system and do not listen (as they don’t care) when the lady on the microphone announces the group. But easyJet has been around for a while and most people know about these groups.

So what could it be? I would say it is because travellers are not sure the rules are respected. The easyJet lady calls a group but lets people in, even if they’re not from that group. “Are all these people really group A?” I ask myself as I try to see on my neighbour’s boarding pass what group he is. “I’m sure she’s just letting everybody through.”

In a country where the law is applied, people respect it. In Italy, cars do not respect red lights since they don’t arrest you for that. Since easyJet travellers are not convinced the rules are applied, they break them to get the maximum reward in an uncooperative manner and avoid being screwed.

Indeed, if you fear you will get screwed because the rules are not followed, you behave like a savage. Let’s say you are group B and they are calling group A. You either behave like a dove, sitting and waiting for your turn, or like a wolf, blocking the way and trying to get in. Depending on how others from group B, C and D are behaving, different outcomes fro you are possible:






Chill sitting

You get screwed


Standing for nothing

Wolf fight

Here you would definitely act as a dove if the others were sitting calmly. But as soon as someone gets up, and he will, since rules are not respected, the good equilibrium is broken: it is a wolf fight.

But even if the rules are followed you still get the same outcome because you don’t want to lose priority within your group. In Geneva, people get up and block the way so that when their group is called they’ll be the first from their group aboard.

Announcing the group on the upper screen would already add confidence in the institution. But still it would not be perfect as within group wolf fights would still occur. Better than that is what they do in Berlin: a different line per group. In Berlin, not only is the boarding order between groups clear and respected, but also the within group priority for “good seat” hunters, who obtain their priority in a civilised way, without cheating.

So if you want to avoid chaos, you don’t just need to increase confidence in the system, you need to design a mechanism where people can’t cheat, i.e. cut the line. All in all, when there is a lack of social capital, a strong rule of law is necessary.

1 comment:

pondlife said...

I would have left a comment earlier but I have spent the last few weeks seething at the injustice of the easyjet boarding system, and the only reason I haven't killed anyone is because I am counting the money I have saved travelling easyJet...

Nevertheless wouldn't it be simpler to allocate a seat number in any case ? It was announced by easyJet when they started that it saved money, but as Geneva check-in is automated it could (for no added cost that I can see)easily print a bparding card with a seat number on it.

Just a thought.