Airplane Boarding – The Least Pro-Active Process Ever?
As a frequent flyer, I really try to turn off the process thinking part of my brain, for sanity's sake.
However, one thing that constantly amazes me is the failure of American Airlines to effectively manage the boarding process and how the overhead space gets managed.
On a Monday morning crowded flight, it's inevitable that:
- Bins get full
- Passengers are backed up trying to find space, which slows boarding.
- Passengers (all of us) get yelled at by the flight attendants over the loud speaker
- Passengers who board late have to swim upstream to give their bag to an agent to check at the gate
This leads to late departures, frustrated employees, and irritated passengers. I board early and always have room, I just hate the yelling and the unpleasant atmosphere. “We know why you fly”, American claims in their ads. I don't fly so I can be surrounded by chaos every Monday morinng.
Since they must KNOW that not everybody who tries to board with a bag will find space, why not manage this proactively. Why not count bags as passengers get on? Why not observe and learn that, maybe after 85 passengers, an MD-80 overhead bin space is normally full, so start checking bags BEFORE the passengers get on board?
American Airlines is like a person whose stomach doesn't communicate promptly to the brain that “I'm full,” so the person overeats and feels horrible… the airline “overproduces” bags (to use a Lean term) and the process suffers. There need to be better signals (or proactive prediction) about when the bins are full…
If you're not going to get space, you'll be mad. But not as frustrated as if you have to fight and swim upstream in a boarding plane. It's got to be better to find this out sooner, than later. They could announce “If you are in Group 4 or higher, you will have to check your bag at the gate.”
I've wondered about this for a long time… on Monday's flight (from DFW to ORD), there was an American supervisor in a suit standing just outside the plane. As I was boarding (about the 10th person on the plane), he radioed to the agents, “At 100 or 105 passnengers, start checking bags.”
OK, a good effort. But, the “overproduction” still occurred. Apparently the number should have been less than 100. Where is the Plan-D0-Check-Act cycle? Does the manager do a quick debrief after the boarding to see what worked and what could have been done better? I doubt it. Does he always bark that 100 to 105 number, thinking that's right?
On an unrelated note, this particular flight was delayed because of a defect in the process — overproduction in the plane fueling process. We got an announcement, right at departure time, that the plane was overfueled. We were told, “This plane was fueled yesterday for a different route and there was a schedule and equipment change. So this plane is too heavy to legally take off, so we'll have to remove some fuel.”
Yikes, was it FAA regulations or the laws of physics that were about to be potentially violated?
Why were they JUST noticing this at 7:00 AM? Was it a pre-flight checklist that caught this, I wonder? I'm glad they caught it, but as a lean thinker, I'd rather they not catch these errors at the last minute… too much at stake.