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Guest Post: Operations Management on Vacation

June 23, 2013

Howard WeissOur Guest Post today comes from Prof. Howard Weiss, at Temple University. Howard is the developer of the POM for Windows and Excel OM problem solving software that we provide free with our OM texts.

I went on vacation last week to Florida. I enjoyed seeing Barry in Orlando for dinner and loved taking my grandson to the theme parks. But as an Operations Management professor, I can’t help but to be alert to possible system improvements.

Layout: I stayed at a hotel that had a buffet breakfast that was arranged in a straight line. The first process was a milk dispenser followed by the cereal followed by the bowls. You do not need to be an operations expert to realize that this will cause problems. And it did!

Aggregate Planning: The hotel’s breakfast capacity was based on a normal day where demand was spread out from 6:30-9:30. However, on this rainy day, guests were in no rush to visit the amusement parks and there was a large demand for breakfast from 9:00-9:30. The hotel could have prepared more food in the previous production period of 8:30-9:00 and held it until 9:00 to lessen the backlog.

Reliability: At another hotel the extension cord that was used for the waffle irons became defective. The kitchen had no backup extension cord.

Process Design: At the Miami Airport the moving walkways have signs that say “Stand on right, walk on left.” This made the process much more efficient than other moving walkways or the DC Metro that do not have the signage. For an interesting read see

Operating Costs: We saw an escalator that was not functioning. This reminded me that many escalators in Europe run only when someone approaches them. This saves energy. If an escalator is not running in the US it is because it is broken.

Safety: When we exited the plane we saw that a passenger who had been sitting in the emergency row, now on a wheelchair by the plane’s exit, waiting to be wheeled away. You would think that the airline’s information system would flag a passenger who needs a wheelchair from sitting in the exit row.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2013 4:47 pm

    Thanks, Howard. Can I add my favorite queue pet peeve? It is when I am at a function with a large self-serve buffet table, where the table is up against a wall, so guests cannot access the food from both sides.

  2. June 25, 2013 2:41 pm

    Since my classes are physically in Florida, the whole hospitality industry tends to offer good examples like this (or as you point out … opportunities for improvement). Students frequently elect to use these tourism based organizations for class projects. I find getting students to connect examples from the real world in the output of operations they experience as customers to be such a vital part to their learning. At the same time with much of the economy here in Florida focused on these services, it helps students see the value in what they are learning to consider potential career building opportunities!

  3. July 4, 2013 5:55 pm

    These are all excellent examples of the value of operations training, and an argument for holding our students accountable for problem solving skills. Even common customer service tasks like the ones above have daily changes and detours that require creative attention. There is no “manual” that can give predefined instructions for every scenario.

    I was caught in a horrible airline failure last winter. An accident at the airport canceled many international flights, one of which I was on. These were large planes, so the total volume was thousands of passengers, and it overwhelmed the available staff. I stood in line all night, and watched the sun rise as I stood in line.

    This was a classic queuing problem. Everyone was in the same line, but in most cases the transaction could be predicted by the canceled plane. Some planes had been rescheduled as “extras” the next day, and those passengers needed boarding passes. Others had no alternative but to hotel and come back the next night. They should have had a designated line for flights requiring a hotel, and just gotten those passengers out of the airport as soon as possible. Those passengers could come back the next day to confirm their flight (when more staff would be on duty). That would have also made the airport less crowded for those passengers who needed to stay for a rescheduled flight.

    But, the staff simply did not have the vision or the authority to structure the service delivery in this fashion.

  4. July 4, 2013 9:53 pm

    Steve, unfortunately what you describe is so common in airline travel today. The kiosk system should be taking up the slack, automatically spewing out revised schedules, hotel and food vouchers, etc. The airlines will never have enough staff on hand, will they?

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