lean airlines

4 Ways Lean Airline Companies Can Improve Their Services

Lorenzo Del Marmol

May 30, 2017

lean airlines

Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before. –Shigeo Shingo

Everyday airline companies achieve a remarkable feat by moving approximately five million people more than forty million km around the world. However, what these airline companies fail to deliver is efficiency in their services. Even the most standout services lose bags, depart late, keep their valuable employees idle, and underutilize billions of dollars of investment in the form of aircrafts. To address this issue, lean practices have commonly been prevalent in aerospace management and maintenance for over a decade now. Lean airline companies have found an effective way to improve their services and prevent inactive components from turning into cost drain. How do they make use of lean to guarantee this improvement?

1. Improving The Management Of Catering Inventory:

Lean is particularly useful in the management of catering inventory such as soft drinks. With the transition from traditional techniques to lean, you can reduce the costs of catering, make sure that the catering is as accurate as it can be, and trim down the time for on-hand inventory.

IATA & US Airways have adopted this lean management technique and testifies to its success. According to a representative of the US Airways, the transition to a ‘just-in-time’ production scheme has allowed them to reduce inventory at their five commissaries, improve the accuracy of catering services on the aircraft, and increase the overall consistency of stocking.

Instead of making use of the old practice of building the cart all together, US Airways has now adopted a workflow practice in which a particular employee is responsible for stocking the same drawers repeatedly which improves the quality of the stocking process.

2. Low Cost – Low Fare:

These days, a saying that is well known to all airline companies is: low cost – low fare. The objective is simple – reduce the costs of running operations of the aircraft to reduce the fare for the customers. For ensuring this, a lean practice that is commonly used by lean airline companies is to reduce the time that the aircraft is on the ground.

However, customers have to be partially involved in some activities for doing so. For instance, the crew can request all the passengers to pick up their own magazines and trash which will not only reduce the ground time but reduce cleaning expenses, as well.

One other lean logistics strategy that is commonly used is to reduce the boarding time by calling passengers that have to be seated at different portions of the aircraft at different times during the boarding process to improve the overall efficiency of the process.

Southwest Airlines is a prime example of an airline company that has lowered costs and improved reliability of their services through a lean strategy of relational coordination among employees which generates high aircraft and employee productivity.

3. Refining Baggage Handling:

Baggage handling is a problem that is commonly associated with almost every airline company, no matter how renowned it may be. Most businesses travelers would prefer lugging a 20 kg bag through the long-distance airport walkways and security rather than having to up with the poor baggage handling on offer – but this is something that lean management can take care of.

Lean strategies can be used to reorganize the workflow of baggage handling and reduce the time that is required for bags to reach the luggage carousel. In fact, with most airports, there is absolutely no physical reason as to why airlines cannot deliver their baggage with high reliability and speed.

In fact, Auckland International Airport has actually improved their baggage handling through the use of a simple lean six sigma strategy – as soon as the plane is on blocks, the cargo doors are opened and the bags are taken out even before passengers have start moving. According to the chief executive, this saves up to five minutes per trip for millions of passengers a year which is huge saving!

4. Enhancing Customer Service:

Lean can also be used for improving the customer service – airline companies can include a check-in system that would increase throughput by segmenting the passengers: most of them would be handled as per routine and the rest by special-service agents.

This technique will allow the airline companies to match the staffing with the arrival of the passengers, standardize best practices, and monitor the varying processing times. It would also assist in systematically eliminating the causes of slowdowns and setup a well-rehearsed protocol for dealing with uncontrollable events such as cancellations due to weather.


  • Billions of euros of investment is underutilized by airline companies because of the poor management strategies that they adopt.
  • The use of lean strategies can help airline companies to improve management of catering inventory, reduce costs for their services, refine baggage handling, and enhance customer service.
  • Lean strategies can be used to standardize tasks, restructure workflow, and improve visibility.

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Be Lean, be happy!

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