Flying against the wind: false lean ideas in air transportation

During this summer vacation, I had the opportunity to fly to the United States eight times on two airlines. Air travel is quite far from the lean vision and customer experience orientation that I promote on this blog. Wait time, complexity, flight or baggage delays are unfortunately the daily routine for many travelers. Airlines are deteriorating the customer experience. By focusing on reducing costs without solving problems, they make travel more painful.

Avion en contre-jour d'un couché de soleil

The notion of customer experience is nevertheless a point on which companies insist, I propose in this article to look at how they try to improve, but not always according to lean principles. Beware of false good ideas: satisfying a customer is solving her problem, correcting the source of the problem and not the symptom.

Reduce costs, but not at any cost

One of the “simple” ways to reduce costs, in a quick way, is to reduce the staff. The impact is immediate. The staff is therefore reduced to a minimum. Airlines now invite passengers to check in online, giving all their information, and offer automated kiosks at the airport.

This summer I also tested customer check-in. The kiosk scans the passport, prints boarding passes and labels to stick on the luggage. The luggage must then be placed on the conveyor belt. Someone is there to help, but instead of spending 10-15 minutes with an agent for the whole process, the agent spends less than a minute checking that we have stuck our luggage tag on. The company reduces its costs, but the customer is not always satisfied. This new process was stressing many people. They are not sure of what they are doing and fear that their luggage will not reach its destination.

In addition, customers who are not familiar with the processes that support the transportation of luggage do not necessarily apply the tags in the right way or in the right place. This time saving at the counter may be generating losses in the back office… Not to mention the stress that results in a bad customer experience. Customers don’t particularly like change.

Limit delays, without cheating

The airlines have implemented another technique, formidable to reduce delays. The flight time indicated on the documentation provided is higher than the reality. Even if the plane takes off late, it arrives on time or early, it’s magic!

Even though customers are satisfied with arriving on time, the company does not address the causes of delay. Using the well-known parable of the ocean of inventory that covers the problems, this technique consists of raising the level of the ocean to be sure that the problems disappear below the surface of the water. This is the opposite of lean principles.

Reduce baggage delivery time without making us walk

A trick that one airport has implemented to reduce the waiting time in front of the baggage carousel. Indeed, baggage handling is the responsibility of each airport, the airline is a client of the process, just as it is subject to the government security process.

Because customers felt they were waiting too long for their luggage, the airport increased the distance to the baggage carousel: ten minutes more walking = ten minutes less waiting at the carousel… As a customer, does this meet your need?

Think about it the next time you express dissatisfaction… Your dissatisfaction is not related to the waiting time in front of the carousel. You are unhappy with the total time to get out of the airport after the plane lands.