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OM in the News: TSA Turns to OM, and Improves Queue Times

July 24, 2016
HIDE CAPTION Peak wait times measured by airport officials at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, pictured May 16, fell from 105 minutes in early May to just nine minutes in the two weeks before the Fourth of July

Peak wait times at Chicago O’Hare Airport fell from 105 minutes in May to just 9 minutes in late June

After hours long lines at some airports and public outrage over stranded passengers, the beleaguered Transportation Security Administration (TSA) just pulled off a major restructuring, dramatically reducing wait times even as summer air travel surged to record levels. Nationally, over the 4th of July, wait times averaged 10 minutes and PreCheck lines averaged 5 minutes.

“How TSA dug out of its checkpoint quagmire is both a remarkable story of rare, quick change inside a big government agency,” writes the Wall Street Journal (July 21, 2016)–and it all involved a series of basic OM analyses that your students could have developed. Here are some of the TSA changes:

  1. Put more agents on passenger screening checkpoints.
  2. Provided a barrel to dump out water bottles before they went through X-ray machines and brought screening to a halt.
  3. Added 600 contract workers to move bins and direct passengers so TSA screeners (who used to do that) could go back to screening and open more lanes.
  4. Created a maintenance desk in each command center to quickly dispatch techs instead of the old process of writing a repair ticket and waiting.
  5. Summer vacations for screeners were limited; nonessential training was deferred.
  6. Slightly increased the number of people selected to get PreCheck printed on boarding passes.
  7. Created a Central Command Center which hosts daily conference calls with local directors, airports and airlines. Here they share best practices and coordinate efforts, shifting staff at airports with multiple terminals and regions with multiple airports as needed.

“We completely changed the way we operate,” said TSA’s administrator.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Can students expand this list with more suggestions?
  2. What will happen in Fall, when short-term fixes like overtime, delayed vacations and training, etc., dissolve?
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