EasyJet explains this on their check-in and boarding page as follows:
This makes boarding quicker so aircraft waste less time on the ground at airports — and it is by keeping costs down in this way that allows us to keep fares low.
I’d always assumed that this “boarding quicker” was related to the time saved from passengers not having to bother with finding their assigned seat, but that never really rang true as a reason.
Today, boarding JetsGo (which does have assigned seating) in Toronto, I think I figured it out: when there are no assigned seats, there’s an incentive for passengers to arrive early and board quickly: the reward is a better seat.
Perhaps this has been obvious to everyone but me.
I am, you see, an “front of the liner” when it comes to boarding planes — I am a careful student of the various nuances of announcements, motions, door openings, and so on, and I’m usually able to time my presence at the gate so that I’m at the head of the line, and first on the plane.
And so I rarely see what happens after the initial boarding call.
Today I decided to play it differently: I remained in the lounge until the very last minute, reading my New Yorker until just before last call. Then I simply got up and walked on at a leisurely pace.
Because I had an assigned seat waiting for me, I felt no rush. I could have probably even spent an extra couple of minutes in the lounge if I’d wanted to cut it close.
And therein lies the problem.
Take that leisurely attitude and extrapolate it up to millions of passengers on thousands of flights, and there are hours and hours of time saved, time when jets can be in the air making money rather than on the ground waiting for layabouts to finish reading their magazines.