Posts Tagged ‘airports’

Airlines compete, in part, by offering lots of origin-destination pairs. Not matter in which backwater burg you reside, they strive to get you to every equally lonely outpost. That might overstate the case, but most airlines try to offer options that connect most reasonably sized cities. Most airlines consequently favor hub-and-spoke configurations for their networks that funnel passengers from all over into a limited set of points (like Chicago and Houston) before heading back out to a range of cities.

But how should an airline arrange its flight into a hub? One option is to bunch arrivals closely together so that departures can similarly be bunched together. Call that peaked scheduling. Alternatively, the airline can have a smoother flow of planes coming in. Arrivals to a hub are spread across the morning as opposed to, say, having a large number of planes land between 9:00 and 10:00.

Peaked scheduling was used by most airlines for many years but has been on the outs for the last decade or so. Now, however, it is making a comeback (Airlines Create Rush Hours, Crowds and Full Flights, Sep 10, Wall Street Journal).

Instead of spacing flights evenly throughout the day, American in August started bunching them together. The change restores an old format of “peak” scheduling, grouping flights into busy flying times followed by lulls when gates are nearly empty. After Miami International, American next year will “re-peak” schedules at its largest hubs in Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth. …

In Miami on a typical weekday, 42 flights depart between 9 and 10 a.m. Then between 10 and 11 a.m., only a handful are scheduled to take off. The process repeats during the day with 10 “banks” of flights that fill about 45 gates at a time.

The interesting part of this is that a peaked versus non-peaked schedule is really a trade off between customer service and operating cost. (more…)

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How to get people onto planes is an interesting topic. It is a process most of us go through with some regularity and it is hard not to think that there has to be a better way. There are many articles in the popular press explaining that in many ways airlines are doing it wrong (for an example, see this recent Quartz article). Academics like publishing papers on new methodologies that purport to work better — even if their approach is at best whimsical (would an airline assign seats based on who has carry on luggage?). But what if the secret to a smooth boarding process was really in the gate area not in the jet bridge or plane aisle?

That essentially is the premise of some work reported in the Wall Street Journal (In Tests, Scientists Try to Change Behaviors, Jul 28).

At the Copenhagen airport, Dr. Hansen recently deployed a team of three young researchers to mill about a gate in terminal B. The trio was dressed casually in jeans and wore backpacks. They blended in with the passengers, except for the badges they wore displaying airport credentials, and the clipboards and pens they carried to record how the boarding process unfolds. …

The researchers are mapping out gate-seating patterns for a total of about 500 flights. Some early observations: The more people who are standing, the more chaotic boarding tends to be. Copenhagen airport seating areas are designed for groups, even though most travelers come solo or in pairs. Solo flyers like to sit in a corner and put their bag on an adjacent seat. Pairs of travelers tend to perch anywhere as long as they can sit side-by-side.

For the next stage of the project, the airport has given the researchers permission to change seating configurations at some terminal gates to figure out which arrangements are most likely to encourage greater numbers of passengers to sit down and help make the boarding process more orderly. Among possible ideas the team is considering are expanding the number of spots that could encourage single travelers to sit and placing signs with updates about the status of the boarding in key locations.

When people are uncertain about the process, they tend to follow each other, and that can lead to a large group of people clogging up the boarding, Dr. Hansen says.


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Have you ever wished you could tell the TSA what to do with itself? Now, you have that opportunity — at least when it comes to how they organize and manage their queues. To make things even better, they might actually pay you! The Transportation Security Administration has posted a challenge asking for people to develop a simulation model to tackle the capacity management issues of getting people through airport security. If you are interested in the challenge, the official call is here. Here are some of the specific considerations that need to be tackled:

TSA is looking for the Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design Model to apply a scientific and simulation modeling approach to meet the dynamic security screening environment. The new queue design should include, but not limited to the following queue lanes:

  • TSA Pre✓™
  • Standard
  • Premier Passengers (1st class, business class, frequent fliers, etc.)
  • Employee and Flight Crews
  • PWD (wheelchair access)

The Challenge is to provide a simulation modeling concept that can form the basis to plan, develop requirements, and design a queue appropriately. The concept will be used to develop a model to be applied in decision analysis and to take in considerations of site specific requirements, peak and non-peak hours, flight schedules and TSA staffing schedules. Solvers are expected to provide the concept and provide evidence that it works as described in the requirements.

According to Nextgov.com, there are specific performance targets for different classes of customers (Attention, Passengers: $15,000 Prize for Whoever Can Speed TSA Screening, Jul 18)

The line, in this scenario, extends from the point where a passenger joins the end of the queue to the metal detector or body scan machine.

The rules for the challenge state wait times cannot be more than 5 minutes for PreCheck and 10 minutes for standard lines.


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Pity the Transportation Security Administration! They have a tricky capacity planning problem with their Pre✓™ program. Here is how the TSA describes Pre✓™:

TSA Pre✓™ allows low-risk travelers to experience expedited, more efficient security screening at participating U.S. airport checkpoints for domestic and international travel.

The perks of the program of the program include being able to leave your shoes on, not having to take out your laptop, and leaving your baggie of toothpaste buried in your carry-on. All of that gets you faster screening and — in theory — a faster moving line. The program started off being by invitation but has broadened to include those enrolled in the Custom and Boarder Patrol Global Entry program. Now anyone can apply. The trade off for travelers is that you have to pony up for a background check. For the TSA, it allows them to expend fewer resources on people it knows something about so more time can be spent on those it has no information on.

So what’s the problem? The issue is how the system has to be implemented at airports. Pre✓™ flyers go in a separate line and then through separate equipment and personnel. But, as the Wall Street Journal tells it, that is costly for the TSA and they cannot readily justify dedicating the current resource levels unless they can get more flyers signed up (Trouble Selling Fliers on the Fast Airport Security Line, Apr 16).

TSA wants lots more people enrolled in Precheck to make better use of its designated security lanes, which currently number 590 at 118 U.S. airports. Since December, TSA has encouraged travelers to apply to the program directly. The agency is opening enrollment centers across the country, letting people who are U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents to make an appointment or drop in and have fingerprints taken digitally. The $85 background-check fee buys five years of enrollment.

“It’s one of the last great bargains the U.S. government is offering,” TSA Administrator John Pistole joked at an enrollment-center opening last week at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

TSA said more than 1.2 million people as of December were able to use Precheck, mostly because they had enrolled in Global Entry. Since TSA began taking applications directly, some 170,000 additional people have signed up for Precheck. The program appears on track, but if more travelers don’t sign up TSA will have to scale back the number of Precheck lanes at airports, Mr. Pistole said. TSA hasn’t set an optimum number of enrollees for the program, he said.


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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…)

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The Numbers Guy column in today’s Wall Street Journal relates to our recent post on delays clearing customs at Heathrow (Border Delay Data Leave Fliers Up in the Air, May 5). He hits on a number of points similar to what we brought up. First, demands are going to be very peaked over the day. Check out his graph of arrivals at various US airports:

Note that we have posted about wait times at US ports of entry before. Also note that he is picking on at least two bad airports here with JFK and Miami since they have international flight arriving to multiple terminals. (I am not sure what happens at LAX.) That creates a particular challenge for Customs and Border Protection since they cannot easily move an idle agent from one terminal to another to help out for say 15 minutes or so. This is also an issue at London’s Heathrow.

Another point he mentions (that we touched on) is the difficulty of measuring just what the wait is. Here is the situation in London: (more…)

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Here at the Operations Room, we like queues — not so much standing in them but talking about them. Indeed, about the only thing better than us talking about queues would be if queues became a political issue and people with impressive job titles were forced to talk about them.

And that is exactly what is happening in the United Kingdom.

The queues in question are for clearing passport control at Heathrow. Apparently, wait times have been creeping up, passengers are complaining, and everyone is getting nervous about what this will look like when the world descends on London for the Olympics. According to the Globe and Mail, the source of the problem is a confluence of ramped up security and staff cuts (Long queues at Heathrow spark concern, Apr 30).

The long queues are caused by a combination of tougher passport checks, after last autumn’s row about the Border Force relaxing procedures too far, and staff cuts at the agency. The Home Office is reducing the force’s manpower by about 18 per cent from 2010 to 2015.

Damian Green, the Home Office minister, told MPs on Monday that it was important to maintain a balance between security and putting on a good first impression for visitors arriving at Heathrow.

He said in the Commons that his officials’ study of the position last week showed that claims of border desk queues were exaggerated and the longest queue was at Terminal 5 at Heathrow last Friday, where non-EU passengers were forced to wait for 90 minutes. The queues were “significantly less” for EU and U.K. arrivals, he added.

Of course, there is some dispute about just how bad waits are. The Daily Mail (Millions could face airport delays this summer as Border Agency crisis continues, May 1) reports that waits might be far worse than Minister Green is letting on.

However, leaked documents revealed that limits for waiting times at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 were broken 107 times in just two weeks.

The official 45-minute waiting time for passengers from outside Europe arriving at Terminal 3 was broken 82 times in the first two weeks of April. The longest wait faced by non-European passengers was 91 minutes.

European passport holders, including British travellers, had to wait longer than the 25-minute limit on five occasions. There were even 20 delays at the fast-track ‘e-gates’.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways’ parent company IAG has launched a tirade against the Border Agency’s ‘pathetic’ performance and furious tourists caught in the queues have sworn not to visit the UK again.

The BBC has a fun interview with both Minister Green and the aforementioned Mr. Walsh that is well worth a listen. (more…)

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I am sitting at Newark airport and blogging about delays is New York’s airports in the hope of reverse-jinxing my flight.  The WSJ had an interesting article on the fact that New York’s airports account for half of all flight delays (“N.Y. Airports Account for Half of All Flight Delays”.)

The title of the article is based on the following observation:

 In the first half of 2011, the region’s airspace — defined as the big three airports, plus Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, which caters to corporate jets, and Philadelphia International Airport — handled 12 percent of all domestic flights but accounted for nearly half of all delays in the nation. In the same period in 2005, they represented just a third of all delays, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.


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I promised Gady that I would post something about the Super Bowl. (I had assumed that Jan wouldn’t know about the game.) I had though of revisiting how pizza parlors prepare for the game since there has been much in the news about the volume of junk Americans will consume while watching the Giants and Pats. Instead, we’re taking a problems of the rich angle. Apparently, an influx of private jets is expected to cause significant delays at the Indianapolis airport (Super Bowl Jet-Setters Face Tarmac Gridlock, Wall Street Journal, Feb 4).

About 1,100 private planes are expected to ferry in corporate chieftains and other bigwigs to see the New York Giants face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. That’s one of the largest fleets of luxury planes in the Super Bowl’s history, flying into one of the smallest cities to ever host the game.

Combined with additional commercial flights, the FAA expects an overall increase in the Indianapolis area of nearly 3,500 arrivals and departures for the festivities. That’s about eight times the uptick in air traffic for a typical Indianapolis 500 car race.

Here the author discusses the problem:

Vodpod videos no longer available. (more…)

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How should airlines get passengers through airports with minimal delay? One possibility is to provide loads of capacity. There are two ways to do that. One is hire lots of staff or put out lots of kiosks. That requires both money and space. The Wall Street Journal reports (The Trump Card at Check-In, Dec 29) that Qantas has found an alternative way to expand check-in capacity on its domestic routes: Use technology to greatly reduce the processing time so the same number of kiosks can process far more customers. This graphic summarizes their revised process.

Radio-frequency ID cards (RFID) chips are key to making this work.

The system, built around radio-frequency ID cards (RFID), is similar to toll tags used on highways and bridges. Top-level frequent fliers get an ID card that is flashed at a kiosk in the ticketing area. In seconds, the system finds the reservation for that day, assigns a seat based on personal preferences if one wasn’t pre-selected and checks the passenger in. When everything is good to go, a beacon illuminates.

To check luggage, the passenger goes to a baggage drop point, flashes the frequent-flier card in front of a reader and drops luggage on a baggage belt. The bag is weighed, and lasers measure its dimensions to make sure it complies with limits.

Top-level frequent fliers have heavy-duty RFID tags called “Q Bag Tags” for their bags that replace paper luggage tags. The technology reads the bag’s “identity” as it moves from luggage belts to carts to airport tarmacs. This ensures luggage gets loaded on the same flight as its owner. Other travelers get a paper tag for their bag with an imbedded RFID chip.

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