Sunday, June 11, 2017

Southwest and Continuous Process Improvement

Southwest Airlines began a new experiment just 11 days ago to take another look at possible ways to improve their equipment turnover model. [1] As this week’s Southwest case examined, a core component of the success of Southwest was their “10-mintue turnaround,” and this month Southwest is looking at ways to enhance their turnaround and increase aircraft utilization by deplaning passengers via two doors. The trial-run began at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, and was extended on June 1 to include airports in San Jose and Sacramento.[1] Through past performance, Southwest knows that this core capability is key to their competitive advantage among airlines. The HBR article “The Coherence Premium” identifies that with focus on capabilities, “systems grow more adept, enabling companies to consistently outexecute their rivals and capture the top-line growth in their industries.” This is just a recent example of Southwest innovating and trialing ways to improve the operational efficiency that has carried the airline from its start as an intrastate airline in Texas to a $9.8 billion international airline.

When Southwest experimented with reserved seating in 2007, a scientific approach allowed executives to evaluate not only the customer’s perception of the new process and its potential impact to the brand, but also the time savings/loss by allowing passengers to reserve seats. In the case of reserved seating, as the case outlines, customers overwhelmingly opposed the change and it resulted in an average increase in boarding time. Assuming airline passengers prefer the ability to deplane faster (I know I would), much of the decision to implement the deplaning change on a larger scale will likely rest in the data on improvements or declines in the equipment turnaround process.

[1]: “Southwest Airlines testing two-door exit strategy”, 5/31/2017,

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