Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Why British Airways Disruptions Are Destined to Be More Frequent and More Severe, and Is There a Remedy?

'By removing slack, airlines create failure. In order to increase profit, airlines work hard to get the maximum number of flights out of each plane, each day. As a result, there are no spares, no downtime and no resilience. By assuming that their customer base prefers to save money, not anxiety, they create an anxiety-filled system'  (Seth Godin)

This explains why British Airways, one of the major world airlines based at the world's most congested two runway airport is being increasingly and systematically exposed to disruptions of a large scale affecting tens and even hundreds of thousands of passengers. The recent IT system outage was just one of the bigger events waiting to happen.

Whatever the disruption trigger (IT system outage, 10 cm of snowATC strikes, or bad weather) the ripples will be two, three, or more times longer than of any other airline caught up in the same or similar situation. Another major problem with handling disruptions is the nature of BA network, its aircraft size, high aircraft and cabin utilisation, which makes it hard or even impossible to rebook disrupted passengers on any of BA's flights. Add to this the company's culture where delayed passengers are often treated as packages (hub network model was inspired by FedEx) and future may not look rosy for BA. 

As the company's strategy and culture cannot be changed overnight, here are some suggestion and practical techniques that can help soften the impact of disruption related issues:

1. Improving communication and relationship with passengers
When Southwest approached the problems caused by the technical glitch which grounded 800 Southwest Airlines flights, delaying thousands of passengers, the airline was praised for how it handled what could have been catastrophic brand crisis - it had social media to thank. Learn How Southwest Airlines turned social media into social business.

Southwest Listening Center
2. Shaping the strategy on the go
As a mismatch between plans and reality disruptions create unique opportunity for validating existing strategies, measuring impact of disruptions on passengers, and balancing profit with quality - things that push through the limits of legacy practices. The basics of this method and technique are described in 'Beyond Airline Disruptions' (more in the second edition available at the beginning of next year), and SlideShares: Simplifying Complexity and Managing Costs We Don't Understand.

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