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OM in the News: Speeding Up the Airline Boarding Process

June 6, 2015

delta airAirlines are trying to save time by speeding up a part of flying that creates delays even before the plane leaves the gate: the boarding process,” writes US News &World Report (June 1, 2015). This summer, Delta plans to preload carry-on bags above passengers’ seats on some flights. Southwest wants to get families seated together more quickly. No perfect boarding method has ever emerged.

Most airlines let first-class and elite customers board first. After that, some fill the rear rows and work toward the front. Others fill window seats and work toward the aisle. Airlines have also tried letting people board early if they do not have carry-on bags. Slow boarding creates delays, which mean missed connections, unhappy customers and extra costs. Researchers figure that every extra minute a plane stands idle at the gate adds $30 in costs. About 1 in 4 U.S. flights runs at least 15 minutes late. With 1,000s of flights each day, costs quickly add up.

Delta’s Early Valet service will offer to have airline employees take carry-on bags at the gate and put them in the bins above assigned seats. The airline wants to see if its own workers can load the bins faster than passengers. The service began Monday on 2 dozen flights, and that number is expected to rise steadily, adding departures from Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle. Delta tested the process last summer and saw some reduction in boarding time.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines wants to reduce complaints that families can’t find seats together because flights are so crowded. Southwest passengers line up at the gate by group — first “A,” then “B” and finally “C” — and pick their seat once they are on the plane. The system lets families board together after the “A” group, but only with children up to 4. Some families pay extra for priority boarding to improve their odds. Southwest recently tested expanding family boarding to include children up to 6, 8 or 11.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What other processes can airlines use to speed boarding?

2. What process and design techniques in Chapter 7 can be used for this process?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sandy Rederer permalink
    June 6, 2015 3:12 pm

    The $30 per minute cost estimate for delay at the gate seems very low and of course would vary with the size of aircraft and situation at the airport. If a delay keeps an inbound aircraft away from the gate, the cost is much higher because engines are running and crew are getting paid.

    Any discussion of this subject should include fees for checked baggage, which encourage passengers to carry on more. Southwest doesn’t charge for first two checked bags, which should improve the boarding process, but what is the actual impact?

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