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OM in the News: How to Keep Planes Flying 24 Hours a Day

March 11, 2013

big jetAirplanes don’t make money sitting on the  ground, so airlines do everything they can to keep planes in the air on  as many as flights as they can, writes Conde Nast Traveler (March 4, 2013).  If they can cut the turnaround time  between flights throughout the day, they can probably add an extra flight at the end of that day. But into the late-night hours, things  change. Overnight flights are routine for long-haul distances. But not many people want  to fly at night for domestic or regional travel.  Airlines also use overnight hours to perform maintenance, but not all planes that sit overnight need work. So airlines have been  getting creative in order to increase their aircraft utilization. Here’s what some are trying:

Going Cheap Spirit is known for extremely cheap fares. But to keep those fares low, it has to run  its airplanes more frequently. That has resulted in some brutal red-eyes, including the Phoenix to Dallas flight leaves at  1:55 a.m. and arrives at 5:05 a.m. If people want cheap flights, they’ll put up with the pain.

Following the Family JetBlue is known for great service, but is also earning a reputation among Caribbean families who travel back and forth between their homes in the  northeast U.S. and their relatives in the islands. It is  increasing its service this summer to include 16 daily flights from NY to  the Dominican Republic– effectively a  24-hour operation, with flights arriving at 12:50 a.m., 2:15 a.m., and 3:30 a.m., with similarly painful departure times. Seeing family means flying whenever you can get an affordable fare.

Venturing North   Demand to Alaska explodes during the summer,  and fares are high. So Jet Blue and  Virgin America are adding flights there and still making good money.  What’s more, people generally expect to fly at night in this market. You can leave the Continental U.S. when the sun is shining, see the sun set, and then see it un-set as you reach Alaska and its 24-hour  daylight.

Discussion questions:

1. Why is capacity such an important OM issue for airlines?

2. What other strategies can the industry use to increase utilization of aircraft?

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