Airlines Offer Excellent Example Of Importance Of Business Process

I’ve picked on them before and I am going to do it again. It’s just too easy. From time to time, I have to fly American Airlines and every time, my experience is abysmal. This past Sunday was no exception.  Flying out to a national healthcare conference, leaving from Southern California to arrive (with any luck) in Texas was a hopeful and optimistic experiment. Sadly, my worst fears were realized. My worst case scenario, it happens, plays itself out on a large scale for this company with great regularity. They have earned this Dunce Cap.

How Does Southwest Do It? What Makes Them So Good???

USA Today reported (Monday April 6, 2009) that most airlines performed better in the past 12 months. Consumer complaints to the Department of Transportation were down approximately 20%. Southwest Airlines had the very best performance based on consumer complaints with only 0.25 complaints per 100,000 passengers. One important measure – delays – showed, however, that American Airlines had the worst performance among 17 airlines measured with only 69.8% of flights on time.

What Role Do Employees Play?

American Airlines, in a related story, is unable to conduct talks with its unions. No agreements in the past year. USA Today reports that American Airlines’ pilots union has said its members will disrupt (delay) flights to pressure the company until they get a contract. Their bag handlers and mechanics have launched an ad campaign ridiculing American Airlines executive bonuses! Their own VP of HR states: “No one in the industry believes airlines are in a position of financial strength.” What is going on here?!

If you’re not in a position of financial strength, American Airlines, don’t pay out executive bonuses so obscene that your bag handlers(!) are provoked to run ads nationally. If you’re scoring lowest in terms of flight times, negotiate new contracts with your pilots (AA is the only airline NOT to have done so since 9/11).

Bringing all of this back around to the personal level, my flight out was delayed by 90 minutes on the tarmac at the gate. Why? “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re delayed because the crew landing this plane on the previous flight noticed a mechanical problem so we’re waiting for a mechanic and can’t find one.” They knew about the issue BEFORE loading us into the plane, had no mechanic in sight and boarded us anyway. My flight to Dallas ended with 30 minutes on the tarmac while they waited for an open gate. Arriving at my final destination (2 hours late) we waited at the gate 30 more minutes while they tried to find (!) someone who could open the door(!) and hook us up to the jet-way. No crew to be found for literally 30 minutes. This is a mockery of the way a business should be run. Is it any wonder the lead story in USA Today the following morning blasted this joke of an airline? I think not.

What does this have to do with you?

If you run a business or operational area and have anything to learn from this series of blunders, by all means, please apply the lessons. Lessons learned include:

  1. Apply BPM to produce superior customer experience
  2. Be on time – eliminate time wasting steps and take a “zero tolerance” stance
  3. Score high in consumer ratings
  4. Get good press
  5. Perform well and pay people appropriately
  6. Learn from your competitor – especially when it’s Southwest Airlines (King of Process Innovation among airlines)
  7. If a product needs mechanical work, take care of it before involving your customer
  8. If you suck, make sure you make amends with your customers
  9. Don’t pay big bonuses if your performance is in the toilet

Seriously folks, apply what you learn from others’ mistakes. Bring those lessons into your shop and apply them before you become your own achilles heel.


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