Why is traveling so difficult and what could make it better?

Why is traveling so difficult and what could make it better?

(CNN) – I haven’t been on vacation for 10 years. Part of the reason, I have to admit, is that I’m a workaholic. The other part is that I hate flying. I despise lines, cramped seats, safety: it all seems like a gigantic waste of time.

Usually, I keep these feelings to myself. (Who needs to hear me complain more than I already do?)

But then I read a statistic that drove me crazy. Despite all the relentless coverage of air travel, pre-pandemic polls have shown that most Americans don’t fly every year. Now, even fewer people fly.

Some of them probably hate flying like me. This got me thinking: is there a better way to travel?

I decided to explore the solutions in the latest episode of my podcast, “Margins of Error”.
I started by looking at the way we board a plane. We spend so much time doing it. Most airlines use something called block boarding, which means front-to-back or back-to-front boarding. There is also the window, center, corridor method. Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, reportedly has the fastest boarding process of any other major airline, allowing people to claim the first available seat.
It turns out, however, that there is a faster way. It’s called the Steffen Method, after its creator, Jason Steffen, a physics professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

He has devised a template that explains how and where we store our luggage when we find a place.

“You want adjacent passengers in line to have their seats assigned throughout the plane so that when one person stops in their line, the next person behind them can stop in their line,” Steffen said. “In this case, it was two rows away.”

By having people two rows apart, “both could put their bags away at the same time without getting in the way of each other, and they could sit at the same time.”

Travelers maneuver through a long line this month at a security checkpoint at Denver International Airport.

Travelers maneuver through a long line this month at a security checkpoint at Denver International Airport.

David Zalubowski / AP

Why don’t we start using the Steffen method? Requires strict quality control. Steffen also said airlines have so many priority boarding groups based on state that these interfere with his model.

Maybe one day the airlines will change.

And maybe airplanes aren’t for you. Do you want to go outdoors by car and enjoy the countryside?

If so, there is also a statistical model here for you.

I spoke to computer scientist Randy Olson who, together with science writer Tracy Staedter, created the algorithmically verified “definitive road trip across America”.

Let’s say you have 50 locations you want to visit because you really want to see the United States. “There are three times 10 out of 64 possible ways to organize those 50 destinations,” Olson told me. “If you tried to make your computer find the optimal path by trying them all, it would take about” 9.64 times 10 for the 52 years “.

That’s a lot of time – more than I can type in here – and it’s not very useful.

The key is to use randomness and route optimization, Olson told me, which means swapping two of the destinations and measuring the new road trip. “Is it shorter? If yes, keep it, if you don’t throw it away and keep trying, trying, trying,” he said. “It only takes a few minutes on my MacBook to find the optimal driving path.”

If you’ve really made it through the entire road trip, you could probably take it out in a couple of weeks. But Olson recommends giving it a month or two to admire the view.

Here’s a stop on the journey: Drive north from the Grand Canyon, through Utah and Idaho, before arriving at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Then you go back south, through Colorado and New Mexico, until you get to the Alamo in Texas.

The cost of fuel is an important factor for road trips.  Here, traffic resumes in June along Interstate 395 in Washington, DC

The cost of fuel is an important factor for road trips. Here, traffic resumes in June along Interstate 395 in Washington, DC

Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Of course, the driving is fine and fine. But what about the cost of fuel? Not to mention its environmental impact, which also affects planes.

The answer to these problems may in part end up being … algae. Yes, the stuff that grows in the ocean. Diane Kim, a senior scientist at the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California, studied the potential of algae as a fuel.

Seaweed is “one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet,” Kim said. “Under ideal conditions, you are talking about growth rates of over 1 foot per day. And so you can generate a ton of biomass, which you need to convert into bioenergy.”

The first results of the algae experiments are promising, although the use of algae as the main source of energy will not happen for a while. And even if we could use algae, it’s only part of the solution.

Kelp could be “about a third of our energy use in the United States,” Kim said. “You would need a lot of algae and you will take up a lot of ocean space, but there is a lot of open ocean space. When you compare it to fossil fuels, I mean, it’s a much better alternative.”

If finding the best way to travel is for you, you should listen to this episode. You will find out what happened when we launched an appeal for people who love to travel by bus. It turns out that they are not easy to find.

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