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OM in the News: How Alaska and Delta Airlines Reengineered Quality Control

January 11, 2012

If you fly a lot, you will want to read this article in The Wall Street Journal (Jan.5, 2012) and use it in class when you cover the topic of Managing  Quality (Ch.6). It begins by dealing with American Airlines, which ranked dead last (again) in customer service in the Journal’s annual analysis of major air carriers. The score card ranks airlines on on-time arrivals, delays, cancelled flights, missing bags, bumped passengers , and complaints filed with the DOT.

Alaska  Airlines, which overhauled its operations in 2007 after several dismal years of reliability came in 1st in 4 of the 7 key operational areas. What did it do to change? For one thing, Alaska has set 50 internal quality checkpoint standards on a timeline for each departure. Flight attendants have to be on board 45 min. before departure; agents must board the 1st passenger 40 min. before departure; 90% of passengers need to be boarded 10 min. before departure; the cargo door must be opened 3 min. after arrival; the 1st bag has to be on the conveyor belt within 15 min. of arrival; and so on with 45 other measures for which data are collected on every flight.

Similarly, Delta engineered a major operational turnaround last year after coming in 2nd worst in punctuality and baggage handling and worst in cancelled flights and customer complaints. It has opened maintenance operations in 9 new cities to keep more its fleet ready to fly. It has also invested in a new baggage system and new technology in its operations control center. “There are a lot of side benefits of running a good, clean operation”, says Delta’s VP-Operations.

Discussion questions:

1. Why do some airlines, like Jet Blue, have a terrible problems with delayed flights, while others, like Alaska, do not?

2. What quality measures would students select to monitor besides the ones mentioned here?

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