By Ken Boyer, Fisher College of Business, Ohio State University, Boyer.firstname.lastname@example.org
How often have you stood in line to go through security at the airport and been mildly annoyed … or downright angry. Being an operations professor I can’t help but observe the process and think of ways to ”do it better” – while also feeling pressure to “keep the line moving”. While there is clearly a need to maintain security, one wonders if the many hoops that we have to jump through are the right hoops. And then, there is always the one annoying individual who seems to have no comprehension that:
· There are other people in the line
· They can’t take their pocket knife, 5 gallons of water or 92 pound suitcase through.
· The poor TSA employees (in the U.S. – in other countries there is another acronym) face three conflicting pressures: keep the line moving, catch the bad guys/gals and deal with the public - who often can be inept, clueless or downright difficult.
I’m sure you have bumped into one or more of these people. Recently, I was in line and in the process of getting naked. Taking off my shoes, belt, class ring, watch, medical ID bracelet (believe it or not I am not a jewelry wearing kind of guy), phone and spare change . Did I forget the part about taking out my laptop? We might as well have to get naked ….
So, I had just put my cellphone in one of the plastic trays – precariously balanced on top of a 6 foot high stack of empty trays – because the people in front of me were taking their precious time and talking to their friends in the next line. So, this older gentleman takes a break from his critically important conversation with his friend in the other line, turns and without looking, grabs the tray with my cell phone and starts to walk off. Given that I was busy, and I was in another country where I speak very little of the native tongue, all that I could manage to do was yell – NO! at about 150 decibels. This stopped cell phone grabber in his tracks and I received an apology – I think in French (I was in a french speaking country) – and we all proceeded on our way. I was a bit embarrassed, but my cellphone was OK.
Similar scenes play out thousands of times per day at airports around the world. Almost no one involved in this dance enjoys it, but we must do it. …. And yet, does this process have even a reasonable chance of catching the bad guys/gals? We all want the process to work – and yet there are enormous operational challenges. There are tradeoffs between efficiency and the quality of the safety scan. There are human challenges – no matter how the system is designed and what technology is used, there is always the issue of 1) getting employees to do the proper things thousands of times per day and of 2) getting passengers to understand and follow the rules.
So, next time you are experiencing the security line, see what you can do to make it flow more smoothly, make the TSA employees feel appreciated and observe the process and think about ways it can be improved to make it less burdensome, more efficient, less costly and/or more reliable.
· Describe how managing the security process at airlines uses principles or methods of quality management, process design and analysis, technology or lean production.
· How might optimization or simulation modeling be employed to improve the process?
· What suggestion(s) do you have for improving this process?
· How might TSA officials better “train” or communicate with passengers to streamline security?
· What is your most interesting security experience? Why did this occur? Was this a system flaw or simply an outlier – i.e. is it an assignable cause or is it an alpha error?
· Many, many personal experiences.