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Process Conflicts Leave Consumers Stranded

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Business process is supposed to make everything efficient. In this case, however, a broken business process apparently left a woman stranded in the airport.

This is one of those news stories where the only thing you can be sure of is that we don’t have all the details. But according to a variety of press reports, a woman in San Francisco found herself stuck in a business process that assumes everyone with a plane ticket also has the ability to pay baggage fees.

One of the many articles on this story came from The Daily Mail:

Teri Weissinger, 55, ended up spending eight days stuck at a California airport because she didn’t have enough money to pay the baggage fees.

She didn’t know about her airline’s extra baggage fees of $60, only had $30 to her name and could not raise the funds in time for her flight.

She then had to pay $150 to transfer to another flight and was eventually given the $210 by a church after eight nights of sleeping in the airport

Broadly speaking, it’s pretty easy to see the business process improvement error here. Let’s look at the sequence from the point of view of the customer:

  1. Purchase a ticket for travel
  2. Drop off any checked luggage at the airline counter
  3. Get a boarding pass
  4. Go through security and board your plane
small business productivity consultants discuss airport process

© Flickr user Samrat Mondal

But what about from the perspective of a different stakeholder? In this case, there are two other entities involved, and their respective needs have the potential to create a business improvement process conflict. The airline wants to ensure that they control fuel expenses, and thus have created a bag surcharge. But at the same time, the security administration wants to protect the safety of air travel, and thus needs to ensure that passengers are never separated from their belongings except when being handed off to qualified personnel. There’s a lack of consistency in objectives across the board, even though all the objectives may be valid.

Ms. Weissinger apparently got stuck in the middle. She had bags that had to be kept secure, but didn’t have the money to pay for them. What are the available solutions to this dilemma? Actually, there are only a few:

  • Business process translation: Part of the existing system can be moved (translated) to reduce the impact of the issue. For example, the airline could choose to accept payment at the destination office. The airline could also move the cost of the bags to the airfare.
  • Business process workaround: The existing system could be circumvented. The passenger could send their belongings via mail or if necessary, discard them into a trash can in the terminal. The airline employee could sneak the bag past the scales. A security administration official could permit non-related passengers to share bags.
  • Business process transparency: The potential issues could be made apparent. In fact, this is now the law. Airlines are required to more clearly state baggage fees.
  • Business process improvement: Any of the stakeholders could update their own process to be more effective. Passengers might want to add a step to confirm check-in and boarding procedure with their carrier. Airlines might establish a protocol for customers who cannot afford bag fees. Security officials could change their requirements for unattended luggage.

We don’t have all the details of this particular case. Nevertheless, this is clearly a workflow problem. It should have been, and easily could have been, avoided. Whether you’re a major airline or just a lowly passenger, there’s always the opportunity to conduct business process improvement. Don’t get stuck waiting overnight or with a PR fiasco. Contact our productivity consultants today.

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