Recently I was on a flight from Philadelphia back to Springfield. I had a layover in Charlotte NC and after being delayed in Philly for about 45 minutes from our original departure time, I was worried about making my connecting flight in Charlotte. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you want to look at it, the flight from Charlotte to Springfield was also delayed almost 2 hours. When we finally boarded the flight almost 2 1/2 hours late, another hiccup presented itself.
As we sat on the plane the flight attendant made the rounds counting the passengers and making sure everyone had their belts buckled as normal. We were getting ready to push back or so we thought. Long story - short - we sat at the gate for another 2 hours without moving. What was the additional delay?... The count of passengers in the computer didn't match what was actually on the plane. The computer showed that there should have been one additional passenger. The disconnect ended up being that a passenger had paid for 2 seats for additional room. Seems like a simple issue right. Everyone agreed that they understood what was wrong, it just needed to be adjusted in the computer.
So why the additional 2 hour delay over such a simple issue? As you can see in the picture that I took out the window while watching and waiting, there were 5 staff members for the airline that all were tied up for this issue. Three gate agent staff members, plus 2 baggage members sitting on ready waiting to pull the stairs back from the aircraft. Plus, there were 2 pilots and a flight attendant that were also waiting on this to be resolved. Granted I am a numbers guy but it doesn't take a math whiz to calculate 8 employees tied up for 2 hours is 16 hours worth of lost productivity. This doesn't even factor any of the other cost centers associated with what a delay does for the airline... just the raw number of staff hours trying to resolve a simple issue.
This prompted me to think about what could have been done to avoid 16 hours of lost productivity for the airline?(Sorry... it's habit at this point for me after doing this for our clients on an ongoing basis);
- Process documentation - I know this isn't the first time this issue has happened. So why wasn't there clear documentation for even a first day employee to follow to resolve the issue.
- Automation - Why doesn't the airline have a system to automatically calculate for the scenario of a single passenger purchasing more than one seat? Seems pretty straight forward.
- Escalation - Why was there not a clear path to escalate an issue that wasn't simply resolved? I watched the same 3(yes - 3) guys walk back and forth from the terminal up the stairs and to the cockpit at least 8 times. If after the first 15 minutes of it not being resolved, shouldn't there be a documented process to escalate to a senior staff member?
- Communication - This was probably the biggest issue for me sitting there. As I mentioned, I watched 3 guys walk back and forth, back and forth up the stairs and back to the main terminal. Each time they came back to the plane, their tasks were limited to talking to the pilots and flight attendant. In this technology savvy day and age, it seems almost barbaric that so much time would be wasted having to walk back and forth just to talk to one another. We can communicate in real-time from a chair on the beach to a colleague halfway around the world using a HD video app on our mobile phone but yet 3 guys had to walk in tandem back and forth, back and forth to communicate a distance of just roughly 50 feet.
This is not a knock against the airline or the experience for that flight. Rather it is a reflection of how people get so bogged down in the daily operations that they blatantly and even at times adamantly miss opportunities for efficiency improvement in their business operations. Granted, because this is what we focus on for our clients, I am always looking at ways for people to improve.
The question I hope you walk away from after reading this(and thank you for that), is are we missing opportunities because our impression of what the operations should look like are completely based on what they have looked like?
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