It comes from a report by the International Council on Clean Transport entitled “U.S. domestic airline fuel efficiency ranking, 2010” that was published earlier this month. (It is also discussed in the Washington Post.) Here is the question that it is attempting to answer: Given that different airlines do different things, how can we fairly compare their ability to use fuel efficiently? What’s cool about the answer is that you see with in the answer firms’ strategic and operating choices.
Archive for the ‘Airlines’ Category
Getting people on and off planes is a fascinating topic. Most people have a very visceral response to it if only because it is a business process that we are routinely exposed that often does not run well. Why it doesn’t run well can be blamed on the airline (since there is not the same degree of process standardization in boarding that one sees at, say, a supermarket checkout) or our fellow travelers (since those idiots so often don’t follow instructions). There have been some recent innovations such as boarding passengers in a random fashion or allowing those who do not need an overhead bin to board first. Now Wired reports that other process changes are coming (Airlines Still Trying to Make Passenger Boarding Less Annoying, Aug 28).
The most unusual — and deceptively simple — idea is simply opening the door at the rear of the plane in addition to the door at the front. Alaska Airlines is trying this at a few airports, including its home base in Seattle and Mineta San Jose International Airport in San Jose, California. The idea isn’t entirely new — many airlines, including Alaska, open the front and rear doors at those airports where there is no jetway, only a staircase leading to the tarmac.
“We’ve been doing the dual-door boarding at some of our Mexico destinations for a while,” says Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan. But now the airline has a new tool to help facilitate using both doors at other airports. “Because of the solar-powered ramp, we’re testing the idea of dual-door boarding at airports where we didn’t have it before.”
Yes, a solar-powered ramp. Mounted on wheels, the ramp can be driven to the backdoor of the airplane, and passengers make two switch-back turns down the ramp to the ground, providing an alternative to stairs for easy suitcase rolling and wheelchair access.
Using the aft door to unload passengers can reduce the turnaround time by up to 10 minutes, according to Alaska. Egan says the airline will continue to evaluate the data and feedback collected, but for now it’s a pilot project there’s no word yet on whether the process will be expanded to other airports.
Check out these two images from the Wall Street Journal (Airline Seats Available for Elite Fliers Only, July 12). Both show available seats on an American Airline flight from LA to New York. The first shows what’s available if you lack any status in American’s frequent flyer program. The second shows what seats are offered to a flyer with sufficient status in the frequent flyer program.
To be clear, these seating charts are for the same flight at the same time — all that differs in one’s frequent flyer status. Further, while this example comes from American, other airlines play similar games.
Unlike American, Delta Air Lines shows the Preferred seats it has held back for elite customers, but doesn’t allow regular customers to book them until 24 hours before departure. At that time, Preferred seats are offered for a fee to nonelite-level customers.
US Airways also blocks seats for elite-level customers and labels them Preferred. The airline sells what it calls Choice seats in rows near the front of the cabin for $5 to $99 one-way that don’t have extra legroom but do have early boarding privileges. On the whole, US Airways says 9.5% of its coach seats are labeled Choice. Preferred, Choice and exit-row seating, which is sometimes sold for a fee, account for an average of 30% of coach seats on the airline’s planes.
Those seats open up to customers without seat assignments who don’t want to pay starting 24 hours before departure, US Airways said.
Not to surprisingly, a lot of customers find these games rather annoying. In the American example, there is one seat to be had for free for a non-elite flyer in what can only be described as a crappy location. The article has this wonderful quote “American says it doesn’t think blocking open seats from view pressures customers into paying for extra-legroom or Preferred seats.” which makes you wonder whether the folks at American are naive or dishonest.
It’s been a while since we have written about long delays to clear immigration control at airports. But as this eye candy from the Wall Street Journal makes clear, it is time to revisit the topic (The Summer of Long Customs Waits, Jun 12).
In a nutshell, lines are getting longer and longer. (Also, don’t fly through Miami. Check out this video.)
So what is going on? (more…)
When I was in grad school in the early 90s, it was a big deal when the business school installed a mess of new pay phones — directly addressing a bottleneck that frustrated MBA students trying to contact would-be employers. Now, of course, that seems awfully quaint. But there is an interesting point of comparison to be made between pay phones and wireless internet access. Back in the day, no one expected a cafe or bar to have more than one pay phone. Only locations like airports and hotel lobbies had large banks of pay phones. And they were pay phones, i.e., they by definition weren’t free.
So why is there an expectation that a large range of service establishments offer Wi-Fi service gratis? A recent New York Times article doesn’t grapple with that question directly but it does document the difficulty that airlines, airports, and hotels are having in keeping up with the demand for internet access (Craving Wi-Fi, Preferably Free and Really Fast, Apr 30). One of the points the article makes is that it’s hard to get people to pay up for access on planes — only about 5 to 10% of passengers use the service. Now one can imagine several reasons for this. First, it can be relatively pricey to log on in the air (sometimes close to $20). Second, depending on the airline, availability can be spotty. If you are not sure whether you are going to be able to get on-line, you do the important stuff you have to get done before getting onboard. If Wi-Fi turns out to be available, you then have the prospect of having less important things to take care of but facing a stiff fee. Finally, the service on airplanes ain’t exactly blazing fast. It’s OK for sending an email but not so great for watching a movie.
Airlines aren’t the only one’s having a hard time getting customers to pony up for Wi-Fi access.
Airports and hotels are confronting a similar situation. Of the 10 busiest airports in the United States, those in Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C., offer at least some free Wi-Fi service.
But the trade-off can be overloaded networks that frustrate passengers, which is why Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — the busiest in the United States — is upgrading its infrastructure before switching to free Wi-Fi this year.
“Our system wasn’t built to accommodate the number of customers we expect to have with the free Wi-Fi,” said Myrna White, a spokeswoman for the airport, which dropped its Wi-Fi fee to $4.95 a day last fall.
It is the trade-off between price and congestion that I find most interesting. (more…)
Just how to best get passengers on a plane is an endlessly fascinating topic. It involves everything from physics (e.g., how many people can fit in an aisle at once) to marketing (e.g., how can the airline use boarding perks to differentiate customers) to human behavior (e.g., how do people choose to line up). That makes a recent report on American Airlines particularly interesting. Here’s the NBC summary.
So is this a good idea?
Getting moved from coach to the front of the plane is one of the nicer things that can happen on a long flight. If you fly a lot (especially on full fare tickets), getting upgraded can be a routine occurrence. Of course, that raises the question of why airlines pretty much give upgrades away. Yes, it makes sense to take care of really good customers particularly when moving someone up to business class costs the airline very little. But there is no guarantee that high status frequent flyers necessarily want the upgrade more than some more lowly coach passengers. That is, Mr Executive Platinum may not be willing to pay more than Ms. No Status for the privilege of escaping the cattle car.
Now Ms. No Status may get her chance to score an upgraded if she is willing to open up her wallet as several airlines are starting to auction off upgrades (Flier Auctions: Better Seats, Going Once, Going Twice…, Wall Street Journal, Apr 24).
Airlines overseas have started auctioning off upgrades, with travelers in economy or premium-economy cabins bidding against each other for seats that offer better space, food, service and sleep. Bids for premium seats that otherwise might fly empty begin online weeks in advance and typically close 48 hours before takeoff. The company behind the auction technology says it may come to the U.S. soon.
So far, airlines say travelers end up spending more for upgrades in online auctions than they would spend at check-in. Unlike a casual offer at an airport kiosk, the auction system can generate excitement as fliers strategize about how to win.
“You can buy the cheapest ticket and still have a chance of sitting in business class,” said Danny Saadon, North America vice president for El Al Airlines, where the average winning bid for a business-class upgrade is $800. That’s a deal when the airline’s business-class tickets cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 more than coach.
Different airlines run the auction in different ways since the system from Plusgrade, a New York City company, allows flexibility. An airline can choose who can participate in the auction so it may choose to offer the opportunity to bid to all customers or only those that bought in a particular fare class or to those that meet a certain profile. Besides access to business class, El Al also auctions off empty middle seats to those in couch want some extra elbow room. (more…)
For those heading to an airport for the Thanksgiving holiday, the New York Times (Airlines’ On-Time Performance Rises, Nov 21) has some good news: More flights are leaving on time!
There are, of course, some devils in the details behind these aggregate numbers. Performance can vary by month simply because of weather (apparently August and January are the worst) and the numbers above do not reflect commuter airlines affiliated with major carriers (so going home to a small regional airport may be more touch and go). Also, as the graph makes clear, it sucks to be a major airline that like United goes through multiple computer glitches in a year.
So how have the airlines brought up their performance? By focusing on the processes needed to get planes out. (more…)
Overbooking is a basic model in yield management and is always a fun example to do in class. If you are selling tickets to a flight and there is some chance that passengers will be no shows, it is optimal to oversell the flight, i.e., sell more tickets than you have capacity to serve. Model it right and you have a tidy little newsvendor problem in which the seller weighs the cost of accommodating a bumped passenger with the opportunity cost of flying with an empty seat. The optimal amount of overbooking will also depend on the distribution of the number of no shows on the flight since no shows represent “demand” for oversold seats.
An academic institution may not look like an airplane, but it faces a problem similar to determining how many seats to sell on the 9:15 flight from O’Hare to LaGuardia. The admissions office can invite students in but it cannot guarantee that they will show up. A student may be admitted to a different school that they prefer or simply have a change of plans so enrolling no longer fits their immediate plans. On the other hand, they may all decide to show up.
That gets us to MIT (Bad Math: MIT Miscounts Its New B-School Students, Wall Street Journal, Sep 25).
The Sloan School of Management’s full-time M.B.A. program, usually about 400 students, was oversubscribed by an unusually high number of students this year. Rather than expand the class size, the school asked for volunteers willing to wait a year to enroll, sending out an e-mail just a couple of weeks before the Aug. 23 kickoff barbecue. By that point, many expectant students had quit jobs and secured housing in the Boston area. …
After realizing they had a student surplus, school officials emailed the incoming class on Aug. 7, offering “guaranteed admission to the class of 2015 for the first 20 admitted students who request it.” The school gave them until Aug. 13 to respond, according to one student’s copy of the letter, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. But it didn’t get enough takers.
So, like an airline offering vouchers to travelers willing to hop off oversold flights, the school put money on the table, offering students who expressed an interest a $15,000 scholarship to be applied to next year’s tuition. Students still balked, and on Aug. 21, a day after pre-term refresher courses began, Sloan raised the offer to $20,000 for the first 10 respondents. (Tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year is $58,200, with total expenses—including books, housing and food—estimated at just under $89,000.)
To take the suspense out of the discussion, only four students took Sloan up on its offer.