Tag Archives: airlines

Unintended Consequences

Using data to understand your processes and improve them is very useful.

But using data often results in unintended consequences. If you don’t have a good understanding on the pressures collecting data will bring to bear on the system you can create pressure for results that damage the delivery of value to customers.

In this example there are requirements to take action if certain conditions are present. In this case, if the airplane is pushed back from the gate for more than 3 hours without taking off passengers must be given the opportunity to get off.

The Tarmac Delay Rule in 2010 has led to a jump in the rate of flight cancellations

Indeed, to avoid the fines, airlines are now far more likely to cancel flights that are sitting at the gate or on the tarmac than they once were, explains Vikrant Vaze, an assistant professor of engineering at Dartmouth and a co-author of the study. That means you’re now more likely to board your plane, sit there, and then still have the flight canceled.

It doesn’t seem the conditions imposed are unreasonable to me. But the expectation was for airlines to make sensible adjustments and not force customers to wait so long in the airplane sitting on the ground. The system could be improved by having more gates in operation, not pushing loading planes if you knew plane wasn’t going to leave for more than 30 minutes, etc.. But when customer value is taken very lightly (as USA airlines do) it isn’t surprising the USA airlines would take a very customer unfriendly method to avoid the issue that was the source of the new rules.

Distorting the system or distorting the data are often the result, instead of the process improvement that is desired and expected.

Related: Bad Weather is Part of the Transportation SystemPoor Customer Service at USA AirlinesData is Important and You Must Confirm What the Data Actually SaysUnited Breaks GuitarsRespect for Employees at Southwest Airlines

Bad Weather is Part of the Transportation System

The job of managers is to create a robust system that delivers value to customers. A system that fails constantly (fails during the continual variation the system faces) is a failed system. Bad weather is part of the variation airlines face. Any management system has to cope with the variation that it faces. The management system must be designed and managed so that the organization successfully delivers value to customers under the conditions the organization will face.

The air travel system in the USA is a disgrace for so many reasons it is hard to catalogue them all. One, of many, is how fragile the system is; causing massive (nation-wide) customer harm multiple times a year due to weather. Weather is sometimes bad. If your organization fails when there is bad weather, fix that problem (make your system robust in the face of bad weather), because you are not going to be able to fix the weather to let your un-robust system be effective as it is.

Instead airlines only response seems to be to get their friends in government to approve anti-competitive mergers to eliminate competition and allow failed organizations to become even larger and harm even more people. Airlines should design robust systems that work in the environment they will face (which they don’t do now).

Their planes don’t fall out the sky when they face bad weather. The engineers behind designing planes have made them very robust. Pilots have been trained to handle variation they will face. And yes, the system has been designed with adjustments to avoid flying into conditions that are risky.

The safety of the air transportation system is very good. The management of airlines in most every other aspect is pitiful, and has been for decades.

The managers running the airlines have done amazingly bad job of creating robust organizations capable of delivering given the variation they know they will face (weather, mechanical problems, IT problems, etc.) for decades. Poor management is the cause of these failures that result in harm to customers. Weather is not the cause. Poor management, over decades, resulting in incredible fragile systems that constantly punish customers is the responsibility of the airlines. And they have done an incredibly bad job at creating a robust system to deliver value to customers.

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Airport Security with Lean Management Principles

The ‘Israelification’ of airports: High security, little bother

We [Israel] said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”

“The whole time, they are looking into your eyes — which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,” said Sela. Lines are staggered. People are not allowed to bunch up into inviting targets for a bomber who has gotten this far.

Lean thinking: customer focus, value stream (don’t take actions that destroy the value stream to supposedly meet some other goal), respect for people [this is a much deeper concept than treat employees with respect], evidence based decision making (do what works – “look into your eyes”), invest in your people (Israel’s solution requires people that are good at their job and committed to doing a good job – frankly it requires engaged managers which is another thing missing from our system).

The USA solution if something suspicious is found in bag screening? Evacuate the entire airport terminal. Very poor design (it is hard to over-emphasis how poor this is). It will take time to design fixes into physical space, as it always does in lean thinking. It has been nearly 10 years. Where is the progress?

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A screener at Ben-Gurion has a pair of better options. First, the screening area is surrounded by contoured, blast-proof glass that can contain the detonation of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosive. Only the few dozen people within the screening area need be removed, and only to a point a few metres away.

Second, all the screening areas contain ‘bomb boxes’. If a screener spots a suspect bag, he/she is trained to pick it up and place it in the box, which is blast proof. A bomb squad arrives shortly and wheels the box away for further investigation.

This is a very small simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports,” Sela said.

Lean thinking: design the workspace to the task at hand. Obviously done in one place and not the other. Also it shows the thought behind designing solutions that do not destroy the value stream unlike the approach taken in the USA. And the better solution puts a design in place that gives primacy to safety: the supposed reason for all the effort.
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Trust Your Staff to Make Decisions

The failure to give your organization the flexibility to serve customers is a big mistake. Many companies make this mistake. Often the basic problem is managers don’t trust that their systems to hire and develop people that will make good decisions. The solution to this problem is not to give your staff no authority. The solution is to manage your systems so that you can trust your people. This is not as easy to do as it is to say, I will grant that.

Southwest Airlines and Zappos are companies that do respect employees. And those employees then provide great service. But it isn’t a simple thing. To truly manage a system with respect for people isn’t as easy as just putting up some slogans. But if you want to provide good customer service this is one requirement. There are plenty of others: continual improvement, evidence based management, customer focus, systems thinking

These thoughts were prompted by a nice post, jetBlue Just Blew It

You see, when I booked my flight last night I used their online system (good) and made a mistake in booking the date for my return (bad). I’m going to Boston for the weekend and accidently booked by return flight a month later in August instead of the 4 days I was looking for.

Of course their site has a lot of bookings and almost no one makes an error like this. But any UI designer who looks at their site could see that it’s absolutly possible since the length of the trip is never revealed except for the flight dates. (I”m arguing that they could put in a little fading header that tells you how long your trip is for.) If’ I’d see anywhere that my trip was scheduled for 35 days I’d have immediately know there was an issue. (I could make a simple change to the jetBlue UI that would solve this problem for everyone within a day.)

Today when I looked at my emailed itinerary I immediately spotted the problem and went online to change my ticket. They have a $100 change fee which I paid thinking I’d give them a call and that surely they’d waive that. After all, it wasn’t a change I was asking for, it was the ticket I wanted in the first place. It was less than 24 hours and the flight wasn’t for a month.

But no.

In speaking to the customer service rep who ‘called’ a manager. I was informed that I had only a 4 hour window to make any changes and that after that, there was nothing anyone could do. You see, no one at jetBlue customer service has the ‘authority’ to refuse this fee. It was company policy that they couldn’t actually do anything.

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Southwest Not Delta or United

One of the posts highlighted in the last post was one example of how Southwest behaves. It wasn’t a one time thing. It was a common result of the system Southwest has in place where they treat customers like human beings that should be respected (as Southwest does with employees).

Then you have the typical horrible treatment the other airlines practice. Like this example where Delta damages this guys bike and refuses to accept responsibility. That is until they suffered a huge amount of additional ill will over such horrible treatment of James Lawrence, who is participating in 20 half iron mans to raise money to help provide systems to provide water for those in Africa in need of it.

Which is similar to when United broke the guitar of this guy, except United I guess figured more bad publicity really doesn’t matter given that it seems to basically be their business plan. On the bright side if you do a good job of complaining you can actually do well. But thousands of people (probably tens or hundreds of thousands) suffer the results of systems destine to provide horrible service.

Systems of people function in repeatably ways. Based on the horrible service airlines provide you can be almost certain their managers do not treat employees with respect. When organizations treat front line staff as costs that need to be minimized and as unthinking, untrustworthy problems they will almost certainly pass on the bad treatment to customers.

Related: Airline Managers Disrespect CustomersCustomers Get Dissed and TellRespect for Employees at Southwest AirlinesVery Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Japan Airlines CEO on CEO Pay

Nice webbast of CNN clip on Japan Airlines CEO cutting his pay to less than that of the pilots. He really seems to understand the company does not exist for him to plunder (unlike so many CEOs in the USA).

Related: Japan Airlines using Toyota Production System PrinciplesUnder Nishimatsu, Japan Airlines Tries to Rise Above LegacyRespect for Employees at Southwest Airlinesposts on executive payHonda executives not overpaid either

Confusing Customer Focus

Misuse of the “Customer” Concept

“We are told that the airlines are our customers,” FAA inspector Charlambe “Bobby” Boutris said. “But we have a more important customer, the taxpayers” who want government to ensure a safe aviation system.

That’s crazy. The FAA is supposed to be serving and protecting the passengers, not the airlines. This is like a supervisor in a workplace treating their employee as a customer… even in a “servant leadership” environment, that’s not right.

“Customer focus” is good, but only if you properly define customer relationships. I’d prefer the FAA think of me and my fellow travelers as the “customer,” not the airlines.

I agree there are several different customers. This is actually not uncommon outside of government but for government agencies multiple “customers” that might have divergent desires are more frequent. But the “customer” frame of reference I still think has value.

I actually think the problem is the way people choose to interpret the idea. If I buy a car from a dealer they don’t sell it to me for $100. They don’t agree to not tell the government so I can avoid sales tax. They don’t agree to sell me a car that is not legal in the state. Customer service does not mean do what is in the interest of the customer irregardless of laws, regulations, good business practices, etc..

I would say doctors don’t give patients anti-biotics for viral infections (but actually they do). They shouldn’t. When doctors behave irresponsibly and give antibiotics in ways that harm the heath of society, some might try to claim it is because they are giving the patient/customer what they want. That is not a reasonable excuse.
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