Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Airline Flight Departure Times - It's Anybody's Guess

I recently returned from a quick trip to San Francisco, to attend yet another installment of the ongoing leadership course that I have been involved in for the past 5 months.

Periodically, our group of about 25 participants, which meets locally every week, merges with other smaller groups in a conference like setting for about 150 participants overall, and we meet in either Seattle or San Francisco.

This past weekend, we were in San Francisco.

Needless to say, this involved flying into and/or out of San Francisco for many of us who opted to travel in that way.

As I was sitting in the departure area, waiting for my flight to depart, now into my 4th hour of waiting for what I dared to hope was the eventual departure of my United flight from Vancouver to San Francisco, a couple of thoughts occurred to me.

First, this certainly wasn’t the first time this had happened to me, and,

Second, when did the airline business get to be like the cable company or other utility companies used to be?

We all remember it well, we wanted a utility or service hooked up, and we were told; “we can be there 2 weeks from Monday, either between 9am and Noon, or, between 1pm and 5pm, which would you prefer?”

The day of our installation came around and we spent the day waiting, hoping that if we were lucky, maybe, just maybe, they would come at the beginning of the time slot, not towards the end, and then maybe we wouldn’t have to waste half a day.

But even the utility companies figured out that many of us took our displeasure out on them by going to another provider (where there wasn’t a monopoly on the service provided).

Yet for all the technological advancements that we have made, we still can’t accurately predict the departure (and arrival) times for our airline flights.

I’m not naive, I know that there are thousands of things that could interfere with the planned departure time, and obviously, weather is a huge factor, but how about when weather isn’t a factor, what then?

In our businesses, we have contingency plans, we plan for various alternate scenarios, and, we COMMUNICATE with our customers, especially when things go wrong, something sorely lacking in this situation.

So it occurred to me that airlines should just come out and admit that they have almost no idea what time our flights are going to depart, and instead of selling us a flight with a specific departure time, they should just offer us a 3 or 4 hour window.  “That’s confirmed sir, we have you on flight #5357 Vancouver to San Francisco departing sometime between 9am and Noon on Friday, thanks for booking United.”

Then at least we would know what we’re in for, and, the airline would have an opportunity to exceed our expectations every now and then when the flight left in the earlier portion of our departure window.  They would have under-promised and over-delivered against our initial expectations, and we, the flying sheep, would be thrilled.  High fives all around.

I’m sure as soon as the major airlines get wind of my brilliant idea, they will be lining up to see who can implement it first.  I can already see the slogan; "United Airlines, we’ll get you there, eventually."

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