Hustle and Flow

There are actually examples of good management by airlines: CEO Flight AttendantEngineering the Boarding of Airplanes. Here is another one: Hustle & Flow

Moving customers from frustration to relief–in a fraction of the time–has been at the root of Alaska Airlines’ Airport of the Future project. The carrier has spent more than a decade designing a better way to get customers through airport check-in, debuting the first iteration in its Anchorage terminal in 2004. Last October, the $3.3 billion carrier began rolling out its redesign in Seattle, where Alaska and its sister airline, Horizon, have almost 50% market share. The project, to be completed in May, has already reduced wait times and increased agent productivity. “People come to the airport expecting to stand in line,” says Ed White, Alaska’s VP of corporate real estate, who ran the project. “It’s an indictment of our industry.”

Alaska’s embrace of the future came out of necessity. By the mid-1990s, it was running out of space to handle its Seattle passengers. “If you came here on a busy day, it was jammed,” White says. A new terminal, though, would have cost around $500 million. Alaska tried self-serve kiosks, but technology alone wasn’t the answer. Kiosks were pushed against the ticket counter, which only further stagnated the flow of passengers.

White assembled a team of employees from across the company to design a better system. It visited theme parks, hospitals, and retailers to see what it could learn. It found less confusion and shorter waits at places where employees were available to direct customers. “Disneyland is great at this,” says Jeff Anderson, a member of White’s skunk works. “They have their people in all the right places.”

Ok, it is a bit hard to understand the “spent more than a decade” line but still there are good ideas here. The article includes several examples of lean thinking, such as:

while her counterpart at United managed just 22. United’s agents lose precious time hauling bags and walking the length of the ticket counter to reach customers. Alaska agents stand at a station with belts on each side, assisting one passenger while a second traveler places luggage on the free belt. With just a slight turn, the agent can assist the next customer. “We considered having three belts,” White says. “But then the agent has to take a step. That’s wasted time.”

Related: Japan Airlines using Toyota Production System PrinciplesRespect for Employees at Southwest Airlines

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