CHICAGO—In its ongoing effort to cut transportation costs and boost profits, United Airlines announced Tuesday that it was exploring the feasibility of herding them into planes and stacking them like cordwood from floor to ceiling.
"Research shows that we lose millions of dollars each month by having them all sit upright in individual seats for the duration of the flight," said CEO Glenn F. Tilton, speaking to reporters at United Airlines' corporate headquarters. "However, if we were to remove these seats, we could just sort of stack them all in there, one by one, as they file into the plane."
"If a 747's maximum takeoff weight is 875,000 pounds, then we should be packing that plane with 875,000 pounds," Tilton added.
According to a press release, the company estimates that the new policy of simply arranging them in a towering mound will allow it to sell approximately 20 times more tickets per flight. In addition, executives claimed they would be able to eliminate the unnecessary cost of in-flight magazines, chairs, seat belts, blankets, bathrooms, headphones, and oxygen masks.
United officials said they conducted a test run in September during which they sent a flight from San Francisco to Denver and really jammed them all in there as hard as they could. Analysts found that 98 percent of them arrived safely at the correct destination, and of those who were lost or damaged, nearly all were eventually located.
Engineers at the airline confirmed they are continuing to experiment with stacking patterns and ways to organize them in the cabin and cargo hold, putting an emphasis on minimizing wasted space and maximizing the stability of piles so that they do not fall over.
"After much trial and error, we've found the most efficient way to stack them is to start with a base of large ones, then put down a layer of medium ones, then fill up all the holes with the smaller ones," operations manager Gary Brown said. "The really tiny ones are great for cramming up in the corners."
Brown said engineers have also explored the advantages of different loading procedures, such as driving them down the aisle like cattle, or just putting them on their sides and rolling them in. Researchers eventually concluded that the most efficient system is to wheel them out to the tarmac on luggage carts so baggage handlers can just grab them and chuck them onto conveyor belts.
Sources confirmed that early on in the trials, engineers abandoned the so-called "criss-cross" stacking method—in which each new level of them is arranged perpendicular to the previous one—as the resulting piles were not as densely packed as possible. The research also determined that bundling four or five of them together and securing them with straps or duct tape is far too time-consuming and cost-prohibitive.
"You can't just dump them in there any which way," Brown said. "The delicate ones are liable to break, and if you're not careful, they start to sway, and pretty soon the whole mess comes tumbling down."
Added Brown, "On longer flights we really want to make sure there's no room for them to move around at all."
According to senior vice president Alexandria Marren, the new loading procedure is expected to greatly reduce boarding times, and the check-in process will be streamlined as the airline takes up labeling them with special barcodes for quick electronic scanning. United also plans to introduce several new in-flight amenities, including a sprinkler system that will cool them off every 30 minutes and grated floors through which the waste products can drain.
"On top of everything else, this is going to create a lot of new employment opportunities," Marren said of the company's modernization and efficiency efforts. "For instance, we're going to need energetic go-getters who are handy with a shovel and a bucket of peanuts. And we'll also be on the lookout for talented professionals with previous experience operating high-voltage livestock prodding equipment."
Acknowledging concerns that some of them suffer from a fear of flying, the airline announced that it will soon begin forcibly tranquilizing all of them upon arrival at the check-in gate and attaching a small $45 sedation surcharge.