customer service
Body of Knowledge

Is Your Customer Service Lean or Anorexic?

Lessons on Air Travel…

Unlike most people I know, I actually enjoy flying.  It’s mostly the result of an attitude that I project when taking a trip, coupled with an amount of planning and making sure I get to the airport well ahead of time.  If there is a layover involved, I want a MINIMUM of one hour, preferably up to two hours.

You see, hanging around the airport is one of the few times I actually can be removed from the hustle and bustle of my daily routine.  A place where I can get away from all the sources of stimulation that comes with work, family and friends.  I don’t reach for them, and they don’t expect to reach me.  I like to find the nicest restaurant or lounge in the airport, relax, have a bit of drink and good food; perhaps catch-up on an Economist magazine (seems that I am ALWAYS behind on my Economists).

I recently traveled to the UK and flew out of Newark on British Airway.  I got to the airport almost three hours ahead of flight-time.  It took me about 30m to get ticketed, and I was on my way.  A better departure could not be had.

But then there was the return from London Heathrow…

One does not think in terms of LEAN when it comes to air travel.  Surely, I never really gave it a second thought.  I am used to lines (called “queues” in the UK); lines to get tickets, lines for security, lines for a beer, lines to board.  There are lines everywhere, and I really don’t even pay them any attention because they i) come to be expected and ii) MUST be endured (so it makes no sense complaining).  If you find yourself being edgy whilst standing in a line, it usually means that you did not allow yourself enough time and are now feeling the pressures of “the squeeze”.

I started my return from London to Heathrow on time.  I wanted to get to the airport a MINIMUM of three hours before my flight so I can relax, go shopping in the Duty Free (pick-up a couple of boxes of my favourite Habana Romeo y Julieta’s) hoist a pint or two and have a bite to eat.  The London Underground, or ‘Tube” was on-time and predictable (make sure to “mind the gap”) and I arrived to Heathrow as planned, a full three hours.

I made my way to the British Airways ticketing line and waited…

… and waited…

… and waited…

… ever so slowly serpentining back and forth, inching ever closer to the ticket counter.

For almost two hours I inched my way in that line.  I stood in that line so long that the representatives of British Airways actually called out my flight because time was short, and placed me to the front of the line.

<hint> If I had gotten to the airport 90 minutes later, I would have been promoted to the front of the line and would not have had to stand in it.

What bothered me about this experience was the cause of the slow-moving line.  It was not for any noble purpose, such as security (remember, I am not ticketed, so they don’t even know who I am yet, nor have a chance to “check me out”).  Perhaps it’s a psychological test; see who may break-down and ignite their shoes out of sheer aggravation and boredom.

No…  The cause of the slow moving line was that, although there were a dozen-plus ticketing windows at the British Airways ticket counter, there were only FOUR British Airways representatives ticketing.  I could not help but feel a bit perturbed.  For me, the choices were simple;

–  maybe there was a workforce labor slow-down.

–  maybe the shift supervisor failed to plan properly.

–  maybe corporate muckity-mucks were just cheap.

… in any case, what I experienced was at best poor planning, and at worst an abject display of apathy and disrespect for the CUSTOMERS.

The other queues for security and boarding were as expected with passing the security queue taking about 30 minutes and boarding taking another 30 minutes.

I had just barely enough time in the Duty Free area to QUICKLY pick-up a couple items (and, of course, my two boxes of Romeo y Julieta’s), but not enough time to hoist a couple of pints, much less have a bite to eat or read an Economist.

My routine was disrupted…  I started the “post mortem”.

The problem manifests itself as a bottleneck in the process.  However, the bottleneck is not the problem.  The problem is in the leadership, then the management of British Airways in;

–  developing the appropriate “tactics” to support their strategy (the strategy being to get their passengers to and fro that
day). British Airways knows (I would hope) how many travelers they have planned for the day on each flight.

–  organizing the proper “logistics” to support their plan.  Simply put, they had too few troops on the ground to accomplish
the mission.  This means that the leadership of British Airways either; did not comprehend the magnitude of their strategy,
or what it would take to execute their strategy.

–  of course, it may be that they just did not care about the customer, just their cash.  Note that I did not say THEIR
customer, because a customer does not belong to a vendor, a vendor belongs to a customer.  If a customer is unhappy, they
will vote with their wallets.

As for me, I will make sure to hoist a pint and have a meal BEFORE my arrival to British Airways at Heathrow, and to get there just in time to be promoted to the front of the line… ahead of all the sad-sacks who actually planned for a relaxing time at the airport.


Paris is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence. 

He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 25,000 members.


For more information on Paris, please check his Linked-In Profile at:

Similar Posts