Archive for the ‘Scheduling’ Category

The Wall Street Journal runs a weekly column called The Middle Seat on travel and the travel industry. This week’s column (Why Empty Planes Keep Flying Through the Pandemic, May 6) tries to answer a really interesting question: Why are airlines flying planes even if they are mostly empty?

First, some eye-popping numbers from the article. US Airlines have idled about 75% of their capacity. That sounds like a lot but not when you realize that passenger traffic is down 90%. Supposedly 99% of American flights are less than 20% full.

So why fly? One answer is a sense of obligation. There may be only a handful of passengers on the flight but they are all either healthcare workers or dealing with family emergencies. That is, these are people who need to be traveling who will be had to placate or accommodate if a flight is cancelled.

Another answer is a legal obligation. The aid the government has supplied so far is contingent airlines still serving all of their destinations. An airline does not have to still run three flights a day to Podunk Regional Airport but they still have to go to Podunk.

The more interesting reasons, of course, are operational. (more…)

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We have posted in the past on how the burrito-chain Chipotle has increased the rate at which it moves customers through its restaurants, or as an article on Quartz terms it, its burrito velocity (Chipotle continues to refine the science of burrito velocity, Apr 21). The numbers are pretty remarkable.

Over the first three months of 2014, the US Mexican-food chain saw an average increase of seven transactions per hour at both peak lunch and dinner hours—12 to 1pm and 6 to 7pm, respectively. On Fridays, one of its busiest days of the week, Chipotle fielded 11 more customers per hour at lunchtime on average across its stores, a roughly 10% increase. …

Some of Chipotle’s fastest restaurants currently run more than 350 transactions per hour at lunchtime, which equates to a ludicrous near-six transactions per minute. The nationwide average is currently somewhere between 110 and 120, according to Moran. But they’re getting faster, and faster, and faster.

So how do they accomplish this increase in speed? (more…)

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Having an accurate forecast of store traffic is an important part of setting staff levels. This is particularly true when converting store visits into sales depends heavily on consulting with in-store personnel. But how can a store build a good forecast? According to Businessweek, satellite imaging is a possible tool (The Most Powerful Sales Tool at Lowe’s: Satellites, Feb 26).

Lowe’s said on Wednesday that it has been gauging traffic at its almost 1,900 stores from space, scanning satellite images of its parking lots to find out how many shoppers it can expect at every hour of every day. It has also started syncing its parking lot observations with actual transaction counts to see how many people drove away without making a purchase.

The space snooping is a particularly great way for Lowe’s to manage its workforce, scheduling surges in floor staff when parking spaces are about to become hard to come by.


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How long should it take to play a round of golf? There are two ways of thinking about that question. The first is to think of playing when you have the course to yourself. Then the time to play is just a question of how good or bad your own game is. If all your drives are true, you can finish your round quickly. If you are king of the three (or possibly four) putt, you’re going to be longer on the course.

But players rarely have the course to themselves. Players preferences for playing times are correlated in the sense that more people have time to play on the weekend than on Tuesday morning. That means players have to share the course. A different set of factors come into play. How fast your party can play depends in part on what others on the course are doing, how the course is set up, and how the course gives out tee times. Said another way, the time it takes to play a round of golf depends on process design and production scheduling. Here is how the Wall Street Journal describes the problem (The Real Causes of Slow Play, Jul 13).

But according to Bill Yates, a former industry efficiency expert whose main business now is consulting with golf courses about speeding up the game, player behavior ranks only second on his list of slow play’s five major causes. No. 1: course-management practices and policies. “Players can be blamed for a lot, yes, but if courses are sending out too many players too fast, nobody has a chance,” he said. …

No. 3 on Yates’s list of slow-play causes is player ability. As quickly as high-handicappers may try to scoot around the course, they take more shots and require more time than better golfers do, especially when they play from tees too long for their ability. No. 4 is the way courses are set up and maintained—the speed of the greens and depth of the rough, for example.

No. 5 is a course’s architectural design. Backups often start on a course’s first par-three, Yates said. If tee times are spaced at eight-minute intervals, but the first par-three takes an average of 10 minutes to play, a course has a mess on its hands by the fourth or fifth group of the day. If the next hole is a par-five whose green some players try to reach in two, you know you’re in for a long day.


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If you have invested a lot in plant and equipment, one way to get the most for your money is to run it a lot. That, however, gets challenging when the operation is labor intensive. Yes, it would be great to run 24 hours a day but that means someone has to be working overnight. NPR reports that some automakers have been experimenting with different ways of running a third shift (New Schedules Push Graveyard Shift Off The Clock, Jun 14).

As car companies struggle to meet growing demand, the third shift is making a comeback. But many factories running on three shifts are doing it differently from in the past. And that new “three crew” shift pattern could make what’s normally a hard job even harder.

At Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, employees work 10-hour shifts four days a week. The so-called A crew gets days, while the B crew gets afternoons. But the C crew shift rotates its start time every week. On Fridays and Saturdays, workers start at 6:00 a.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, they start at 4:30 p.m.


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Shortly after this post is published, I will be heading to O’Hare to fly to a conference in New York. Will my flight be on time?

That is actually a slightly ambiguous question. The airlines have some leeway in how they schedule flights. It is not ordained by God that Flight 398 should take two hours and five minutes. That was American Airlines’ decision. The schedulers at AA could as easily have deemed that the flight would take two hours on the money or two hours ten minutes and no one would have really questioned the change.

According to the Wall Street Journal, airlines have been messing with the times they block for flights (Reality Check: Why Airlines Are Shrinking Flight Times, Jun 13). Some times have gone up but on average they have gone down.

American, Alaska, United and Southwest airlines have all reduced scheduled time for trips in at least 16 of the past 24 months, according to the Official Airline Guide data compiled by American. Together, the nine biggest airlines took an average of one minute per flight out of their schedules last year, according to American’s schedule analysis. That may not sound like a lot, but minutes add up to days across thousands of flights. At just American, a one-minute change in schedules represents a total of 24.2 flight hours across its fleet each day.

Here the author of the piece discusses some of his findings.

Vodpod videos no longer available. (more…)

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