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American Airlines Tests Process Improvement for Those Traveling Light

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A process improvement project at American Airlines is intended to improve efficiency. The new process allows passengers who have no carry-on luggage to board early.

The story was reported all over the web, including at the Los Angeles times:

“[AA is] conducting a test for a boarding process whereby customers who do not have any baggage to stow in the overhead compartment will be boarded in a separate group. This is a limited test and results are still being analyzed.”

Airlines have long studied new ways to shorten the boarding time to squeeze more flights into each work shift and cut staffing, fuel and other costs.

Every minute cut on boarding can save $30 per flight, according to a 2008 study in the Journal of Transport Management.

Process Improvement on American Airlines

© Flickr user cdsessums

This is an interesting idea. Every air traveler has been frustrated with waiting on others to stuff their luggage into one of those overhead bins. Providing early boarding to people who skip carry-on bags altogether could improve the process considerably.

What is most surprising, however, is that scientists have known for years that boarding people by rows and blocks is the worst method of all. This was covered by The Economist way back in 2011:

According to Dr. Steffen, two things bog down the boarding process. The first is that passengers are often forced to wait in the aisle while those ahead of them stow their luggage and then get out of the way. The second is that passengers already seated in aisle or middle seats often have to get up and move into the aisle to let others take seats nearer the window. Dr Steffen’s proposal minimises the former type of disturbance and eliminates the latter.

There’s even a video (direct link) that shows how much better this method is for everyone!

This goes to show that process improvement is not actually about process improvement. It’s about culture and organizational change. Even if you have a better idea that you can prove works and will save lots of money, you still have to convince people to consider a change.

If your organization needs to solve these kinds of challenges, you may want to talk to some business consultants that specialize in process improvement. But ask them about the role of helping people to change their mindset. That’s what matters most, and what is most difficult to achieve.

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