Queue Management

Although my experience of late has been with a particular “red tail” airline (soon, I hear to be part of the “triangle” airline..), this applies to any service counter.

I fly a lot. As such, I find myself in front of the Sea-Tac airline counter a lot. So much that I recognize most of the people working there. Not so much that they recognize me, but then, I haven’t made a pain of myself either.

Because I fly a lot, I have accumulated the privilege of checking in with the first and business class folks, even if I am in one of the cheap seats, rather than dealing with the little kiosks then waiting for my luggage tag to print out somewhere and hoping that, in the chaos, my luggage tag actually ends up on my luggage. (Another story.. but, take my advice – learn the airport code of where you are going and physically check before your bag goes down the conveyor!)

Anyway, twice in a row now I have been waiting patiently as the single person who is supposed to be providing personal service to the best customers is dealing for a dozen+ minutes trying to re-ticket someone who has had a problem.

I certainly sympathize with the people being re-ticketed, been there, done that, but the question I have is this: Do they really intend for all processing of their very best customers to grind to a halt when this happens?

I would imagine that, if you asked the question of an executive somewhere, the answer would be “Of course not.” But then again, I would also imagine that their corporate executives don’t have to wait in line – even with the very best customers – to check in to their flights, so they never actually experience what their customers do.

Here is how you keep things moving in an administrative process:

  • Set a takt time – the standard time that should be suffecient to process a normal transaction.
  • Keep track of actual time.
  • When actual time hits some alarm threshold – which you get to set, perhaps 110% of takt, then trigger some kind of andon. You have an exception. Processing is now not normal.
  • When this happens, in order to maintain throughput, the exception must be processed as an exception, and the routine should resume its normal pace.

This is how you beat Goldratt’s marching Boy Scouts problem. It is also how you demonstrate to your customers that you understand the very basics of managing queues.

Interesting sidebar – the customer surveys that are available on board the aircraft don’t ask anything about the experience prior to getting into your seat.

Sidebar #2: Today we pulled away from the gate, then went to a parking space and sat for half an hour with the engines shut down. The pilot explained that there was a weather system out there, and air traffic control was increasing spacing. Even though this information was (likely) known prior to boarding, the measurement of “on time” is “pull away from the gate” not “leave the ground” so in order to get an “on time” departure, they will load the plane as scheduled, then go sit on the tarmac rather than delaying the passenger load. A great example of “management by measurement” not getting exactly the intended results.

2 Replies to “Queue Management”

  1. Oh my gosh. It must be a nightmare to be a “Lean Thinker” in a airport.!!! LOL

    My first thought here was the airline probably put their best ticket processor on the “very best customer” line. Then when some other ticket processor has a problem they go to the best ticket processor for help. This happens here where I work.

    Two years ago I was put in charge of customer returns. I did such a great job at that they offered me a new job as the company’s first Lean Manager. Now as the Lean Manager I spend half my time helping out with customer returns….. ‘#%*!&^%?!!

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