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From 1997, there was a continuous increase in the number of connecting passengers through Southwest Airlines station in Baltimore. This situation has become a challenge to Baltimore ground operations and has led to a decrease in the quality of the service it offers and a delay in plane turnarounds. This case study discusses the operating strategy of Southwest Airlines.
Rogelio Oliva; Jody Hoffer Gittell; David Lane
Harvard Business Review (602156-PDF-ENG)
June 21, 2002
Case questions answered:
- How does Southwest Airlines compete? What are its advantages relative to other airlines?
- The plane turnaround process requires coordination among 12 functional groups at SWA to service, in a brief period of time, an incoming plane and match it up with its new passengers and baggage for a prompt departure. Please evaluate the plane turnaround process at Baltimore resource utilization, capacity, bottlenecks, information flow, etc. How is the process working?
- Why is the operational performance at Baltimore eroding? What issues do you identify that requires action?
- What would you recommend Matt Hafner do?
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Case answers for Southwest Airlines in Baltimore
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Q1) How does Southwest Airlines compete? What are the advantages relative to other airlines?
Southwest Airlines is one of the most famous low-cost air carrier companies. The company has earned its fame by providing excellent customer service at extremely low prices. They have also won several acclamations and awards for their service. They have been able to stand out amongst their competitors based on several competitive advantages they created for themselves.
An analysis of the core competencies of Southwest Airlines is shown diagrammatically below by classifying various advantages of Southwest Airlines into Porter’s three strategies to achieve competitive advantage.
Q2) The plane turnaround process requires coordination among 12 functional groups at SWA. Evaluate the plane turnaround process at Baltimore resource utilization, capacity, bottlenecks, information flow, etc. How is the process working?
A quick turnaround is a critical factor for Southwest Airlines in Baltimore as they operate more than 100 flights on just 18 gates. So, any delay in turnover would have a ripple effect on all the flights. The turnaround requires close and effective coordination between twelve different groups. For other airlines, these twelve groups generally do not get along with each other. Still, Southwest has identified this problem beforehand, and they take active measures to make sure that these groups communicate efficiently and have warm relationships.
Southwest Airlines operates on a decentralized model of working. This model means that the operator at the airport is the decision-making personnel rather than someone sitting miles away in a headquarter. The infrastructure at airports is made such that it is ergonomically possible for the operator to see few gates and have details of all the gates on the left and right-hand side screens.
Extensive training and experience on behalf of ramp supervisors, offloaders, and several operation agents has made it possible for Southwest to turnaround flights in a period as short as 12-15 minutes. But, Southwest airlines face a shortage of employees. Hence, existing employees have to work overtime as far as 16 hours a day. This work schedule leads to loss of employee motivation, and achieving such tight turnarounds becomes prone to mistakes with such conditions. The key factors involved in the turnaround are as follows:
Information: The communications and booking system – Operations Terminal Information System (OTIS) was the main source of information that was developed internally for tracking flight details. OTIS had extensive information on the number of passengers and crew members, weather forecasts, and delay time along with the reasons for the delay. In addition to this, information about gate assignments, arrival, and departure times was made available through the Flight Information Display System (FIDS), which was updated by coordinators at the airport. These systems were functional but not utilized to their full potential. Still, several manual forms had to be filled, which led to a delay in entering Information in OTIS and became a potential source for miscommunication and error.
Capacity: Southwest Airlines had access to 16 gates at Baltimore airport. They flew more than 100 flights in a day. Moreover, there was a…
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