Observations while Flying

This post was originally written on December 26, 2009 on a late night flight from Atlanta to Cincinnati and was originally posted on my IIBA Community blog on January 30, 2010.

Outside my window, the temperature is currently well below freezing, but the sudden drop of 34k feet is what would really get your attention. Yes, like many of us, I am spending my Christmas holidays traveling to visit family. I type this missive from my third and final flight of the trip. I must say that this has been an uneventful set of flights, but it has proven to be a time of reflection for this business analyst.

A couple items have stood out to me on this trip, things I’ve never spent any time thinking about on my many previous flights. We BAs have a tendency to question our surroundings, and given all the mindlessly boring time forced on us during air travel, it’s a perfect breeding ground for ideas.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs

My first observation is all about the illuminated signs on the airplane itself. Has anyone else noticed that they were designed for an era that no longer exists? Why is there a no smoking sign still in the airplane when it is NEVER turned off? Outside of a handful of third-world countries, where are people allowed to smoke on an airplane? It was a stupid idea to begin with, one that is thankfully gone in the civilized world. Why would you want to endanger your own life, not to mention the lives of others, by starting a fire on an airplane? There is no fire department at 34k feet.

The armrest ashtrays were removed from the airplane long ago. Why did the no smoking light not go away, too? The flight attendants remind us of the rule at the start of every flight and I’ve never seen anyone as much as look like firing up. Doesn’t it seem a bit useless to you?

If we get rid of the no smoking sign, there is a logical replacement for it already waiting for that illuminated spot. We are told to stop using them prior to every takeoff and prior to every landing. Outside of those 20 minutes of the flight, we can use them whenever we want. In fact, I’m typing on one right now!

Electronic devices, outside of cell phones, are the focus of common announcements from the flight crew. Would it not make more sense to, during the safety lecture prior to take-off, have the crew announce that electronic devices are only to be used when the illuminated sign is off? Why are we still stuck with the useless no smoking sign when that spot is so needed?

Next on my list is the fasten seatbelt sign. This is another item that hasn’t been updated along with the drill of flying. The flight attendants tell us that even if the captain turns off the sign, we should keep the belt on at all times we are in our seats. Its real use has morphed, but the symbol has not.

“The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelts sign, indicating a bumpy stretch ahead in our flight. Please return to your seats and remain there until the captain turns off the sign.” What this announcement really tells us is that the sign actually indicates that passengers should return to their seats.Why not change out the symbol of a seat belt to that of an arrow pointing towards a person sitting in a seat? Would this not make more sense given the nature of the actual message?

Neither of these observations would really save an airline any money, but they both clarify and simplify the messages that the flier must contend with in their travels. In today’s complicated world of baggage checks, security screenings and carry on restrictions, anything that makes the passenger’s flight less strained is a good thing, especially when traveling during the holidays.

Bringing it in for a soft landing

Just like these thoughts on flying were provoked by close contact with the activity, so too should we BAs strive to find such items in our every day work. We seek to drive out the inefficient, ineffective and inconsistent messages and processes performed by our customers. Items that are as small as these I noticed while flying from coast to coast are ones that can make a big deal to the experience of our customers and clients.

So next time you find yourself in a place that is a bit out of the ordinary for you, where you have some time to kill, try out this same exercise for yourself. See if you can spot problems that only a BA would notice and could help a company fix. Do you see pieces of paper being printed, only to have the information be reentered by another person at a later step in the process? Does the point of sale system used by your server look to be needlessly complicated just to place an order for a cheeseburger and a beverage? Be relentless in your scrutiny of process, procedures and systems!