Heijunka for Airport Security?


TSA considers reservations for airport security – USATODAY.com

I'm not normally a fan of the TSA, but this proposal actually seems somewhat reasonable and reminds me of the Lean concept of “heijunka,” or level loading of a process.

A steady stream of travelers at checkpoints throughout a day also would ease scheduling problems for security screeners caused by the large rushes of people followed by long lulls.

This is what we see in many workplaces — really busy times where employees are overburdened and customers have to suffer through waits. Being really busy can impact quality, when employees feel pressured to cut corners to work down their backlog (and that can have really bad consequences if screeners aren't given time to be careful).

I travel a lot on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons — peak travel times. Can you convince people to show up earlier (or later) if they can be guaranteed to fly through security?

Leveling the process should benefit everyone, but there's not total agreement on this:

Caleb Tiller of the National Business Travel Association said, “It's not entirely clear why we need a reservation system to deal with peak times rather than adding TSA staff and (checkpoint) lanes.”

So money grows on trees? It's better to have a creative solution than spending money, right?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. The idea is interesting indeed. Unfortunately people are known to be imprecise. They are also known to drop quality, when in a hurry.

    I wonder how many of those who would reserve a security check time slot would actually be able to come on time.

  2. I had the “opportunity” to have a 4 hour layover at LAX this weekend (coming home from vacation in Hawaii, so I won’t complain). Of course, I saw the airport from a lean perspective. When we arrived at ~6 am, the concourse was packed by travelers shuffling between waiting aircraft–the typical batch and queue of the modern hub and spoke system. By 7:30, the concourse was empty and my wife and I settled in for a nap. Ninety minutes later, the next wave came in and the concourse was bustling again!
    I’ve railed before about the waste of indirect airline flights. Customers pay *LESS* money to fly *MORE* miles that they don’t *VALUE*. I don’t see the logic in it. To make matters worse, this drives batching at airports, and the need for more of everything, from airline gates and flight slots to TSA screeners..
    It’s a mad world.

  3. So I’m going to show up earlier so I can wait in a chair (in the concourse past the security checkpoint) instead of waiting in a line? Is this what the customer wants? How about eliminating the wait altogether? I would think that pursuing a cost effective way of adding additional capacity at peak times to handle the peak volume is the better solution, i.e. the one that the customer wants, the one that reduces the waiting, not just shifts it from the line to the concourse.

  4. Waiting is waste, regardless of where the waste takes place. I think the ideal would be to offer more direct flights, and staggered to “level-load” the use of the existing equipment/staff, while still meeting the customers’ needs of delivery and lead time.

    Simply adding capacity is not the answer. What do you do with those people/machines at off-peak times? Do you simply lay them off? That’s not the strategy. Remember, more staff means more expense, thus more cost of goods (or services) sold, thus higher ticket costs. Airlines today use the cost+ method, not the price- method, so those costs will be transferred to you, the customer. With the industry as-is, market is not setting the price – at best it is containing the price. The goal has to be to reduce the cost of goods sold to allow for competitors/customers to drive the market price, not suppliers, before airlines price themselves out of an industry. Rising fuel costs are leading industry in this direction.

  5. If the airlines were setting cost+ prices, they wouldn’t be going bankrupt left and right! The market sets the prices – although many airlines have near monopoly pricing power – and the airlines’ inability to control costs is punishing them badly.
    I do agree with the comment about “waiting is waiting” but the challenge is leveling of demand vs capacity expansion.

    Leveling flight loads would also prevent delays due to tight airport capacity, there have been many articles about that recently (including today’s USA Today).

    Typing from gate A3 at PHL.

  6. I don’t know that I agree with your reasoning Mark. Businesses traditionally have followed the cost+ mentality. That is what causes them to go bankrupt. They price themselves out of their market. I would agree that Market sets the market price, but many companies set their product prices.

    We have two small commuter airlines where I live. Right now they are both struggling to make ends meet, as the addition of the second airline has split the revenue from customers (the second only came in about 12 months ago). Both have raised their prices to meet their objectives, and are now suffering from less customers. It has become more effective to drive (even with high gas prices) to other cities – even up to 300 miles distant. This is what I meant to define in my previous post. The market may set price, but individual businesses set cost+, effectively pricing themselves out of the business – which can lead to bankruptcy.

    Does that make more sense?

  7. Mike T. — Yes, I see what you’re saying there. I guess I tend to see prices from the standpoint of a big hub with lots of carriers (although dominated by one).

    Your example perfectly illustrates the fallacy of “cost+” price setting. The market is punishing them for NOT listening to the market-bearing price.

  8. Hello,

    same thing in Germany (Frankfurt/Main), batch and queue everywhere. There just too many different processes that are not connected to support flow.

    Has there been anywhere any effort to initiate an improvement project at an airport through active “lean thinkers” (like they are found in this group or similar)?

    Best regards,



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