Recently, I wrote about a truly fascinating but simple technique that Delta Air Lines uses to turn planes around faster, and thus achieve a better on-time rate. 

In short, they push planes away from the gate at a 45 degree angle when they can, instead of the more standard 90-degree turn. It saves a minute or two each time, and it all adds up.  

Best of all, it was Delta customer service agents in Atlanta who came up with the idea. I love Delta listed to them, instead of bringing in some high-priced, big name consultants to tell airlines how to do their jobs better.

Oh what's that?

A group of high-priced, big name consultants, telling airlines how to do their jobs better? 

Let's compare the two.

Battle of the 1 percenters

Enter McKinsey & Co., perhaps the only consulting company that is as selective as Delta Air Lines. 

About 1 percent of McKinsey applicants get jobs with the firm; similarly about 1 percent of Delta Air Lines flight attendant applicants get hired at Delta. Compare these numbers to a 4.59 percent acceptance rate at Harvard.

Writing on the McKinsey website, four McKinsey partners who specialize in aviation proposed 10 things they think airlines should do differently in order to speed up their aircraft turnarounds.

Here are very brief summaries of their 10 ideas. Even if you're in a completely different industry, they can serve as god inspiration to look for wasteful processes that you do every day. 

1. Gate agents shouldn't walk down the jetway to check whether aircraft are ready for boarding.

Flight attendants can simply tell the gate agents via radio or intercom. There's no reason for the gate agent to take a 1-minute walk each way down the jetway.

2. Get rid of those "place your carry on here" boxes to judge if a bag is too big.

These are hard to use and too prone to "false positives," meaning bags that can fit fine but look as if they can't in the box. Since employees know this, they sometimes act too leniently, and look the other way when passengers try to bring truly oversize bags aboard.

3. Get rid of the "approved" carry on tags.

This is "a process that adds no value and that no customer would pay for," the McKinsey consultants write.

4. Get rid of check-in altogether.  

Yes, this would be a radical step for most airlines, but as McKinsey writes, "it is the poster child for a process that adds no value for customers." (Go McKinsey with this idea!) I think the idea is to check passengers in at the gate, on the assumption that since most passengers have nonrefundable fares, no-shows are pretty rare.

5. Don't have cleaning crews buckle seatbelts.

This looks nice but wastes time: both because the cleaners spend time buckling them, but also because passengers have to unbuckle them to use them.

6. Have different turnaround processes for on-time and delayed flights.

I have to admit, this makes sense. Do the full process when planes are on time, and limit it to true essentials when flights are delayed.

7. Figure out places besides the gate where aircraft can be serviced.

This one is a bit complicated, but basically it suggests finding ways to speed up the turnaround time by doing some of the work before or after the airplane is at the gate.

8. Don't have flight attendants count passengers.

At the very least, to speed up the process in this era of almost-always full flights, count the number of empty seats and subtract that from capacity. That will always be faster.

9. Figure out what's truly routine and what's not routine.

Again, a bit too complicated to summarize--but in short, they say that airlines that don't keep track of the things that they have to fix on planes that seem out of the ordinary, don't actually realize that some of this maintenance is likely predictable. 

10. Insist that every contract you enter into includes provisions to try to make the processes leaner over time.

In other words, the McKinsey consultants say don't just squeeze your contractors' margins every year to increase profits. Instead, build incentives into their contracts to come up with leaner processes. That way you'll both do better.

Published on: Aug 5, 2018
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