After last week’s American Airlines earnings call an employee asked in a town hall meeting what the airline is doing to improve its on time performance. They’re focused heavily on ‘D0’ — departing exactly on time, and whether they’d increase the amount of time to turn and aircraft around?
The way they’ve done it is measure against the goal, and call in employees who do anything that causes a flight to depart late, rather than providing the resources necessary to depart on time. That means gate staffing that can get all tasks done before departure. It means getting a flight catered properly. Related to D0 they talk now about ‘T0’ — turning an aircraft exactly on time.
American’s President Robert Isom took on the question.
- He acknowledged the work to do with on time performance, recognizing that they “fell off this summer.” He did highlight “two days of 100% completion factor performance on the mainline earlier this week, first two days in a row we’ve had in a long long time.” He noted that the flight where passengers were placed under armed guard in Miami was the only mainline flight Wednesday of last week that was cancelled.
— Juha Mikkola (@JMikkola) October 25, 2018
Last year Delta had 242 days without a mainline cancellation. Yes, Delta massages their statistics with 24 hour delays occasionally rather than officially cancelling a flight, but the difference is still striking.
- They’re focused on being equipped to “have the right aircraft to go first thing in the morning.” They call these right start flights, getting things off right or else delays cascade throughout the day.
- Maintenance is a challenge. American’s 767s and A319s (but not only) are frequently in the shop. Isom says “We have the best maintenance organization in the business. We’ve got to give them the tools to do it. And part of that is making sure that they have the right number of people, the right equipment, the right tools, and the right aircraft at the right time.”
American doesn’t have the best maintenance organization in the business. At least I think that Delta’s TechOps would beg to differ. And American’s mechanics are extremely unhappy which doesn’t promote strong on time performance.
Isom says that from a scheduling perspective they’re “trying to make sure we have a schedule that’s flyable and has buffers built in where appropriate.”
You don’t add time between flights because an airline has to offer flights when customers want them most, or else customers buy from another airline. And stretching out the length of time it takes for an aircraft to operate each flight compromises its ability to fly the last flight of the day. You can’t just add 10 minutes per flight to 4 flights and schedule the 5th flight 50 minutes later — because it may be past when customers want to travel.
I view American’s decision to add larger overhead bins as crucial to this strategy. Gate checking bags takes time. American’s D0 focus forces gate agents to tell customers the bins are full when they often aren’t just in case they wind up full because it takes time to get a bag back to the front of the plane and load it as checked baggage. Doing that 10-15 minutes out is operationally better than doing it 5 minutes out.
Isom acknowledges — for the first time that I’ve heard it — “it’s not fair that we just overburden folks with trying to do things that may be impossible” and “we need to provide the resources to get turns done.”
The way American has done ‘D0’ is to focus on the operation and not the customers. Upgrades get skipped. Planes go out day in and day out in embarrassing fashion.
Perhaps the fact that all of the focus for years on D0 not actually generating strong on time performance has sunk in. Perhaps it’s the poor financial performance with premium customers not booking American.
Hopefully American will align the resources with the operation and put the customer at the center of their thinking in order to run an on-time operation that delivers value to passengers. If American Airlines President Robert Isom re-watches his answer to this question, it could actually happen.