When you’ve done something well for so many years, it can be difficult to integrate a new element into your process. Alaska Airlines seems up to the challenge.
For seven consecutive years, Alaska has been the top major airline for on-time performance in North America. However, with Alaska’s recent acquisition of Virgin America, many in the industry might be wondering if their punctuality will suffer. It’s up to the Alaska team to determine how to integrate Virgin America into their operations and replicate their success in punctuality.
“We’ve already started,” said Ben Minicucci, President and Chief Operating Officer of Alaska Airlines and CEO of Virgin America Airlines. “We brought our operational playbook and our strength in analytics to Virgin America.”
Right now, it’s a matter of grinding through the numbers to find out where there are opportunities to improve Virgin America’s operational performance. The Alaska team has taken three years worth of Virgin America operational data and entered it into their analytics process machine.
“They are overwhelmed by the amount of data that was presented but what the Virgin America team loves is us bringing the obviously low hanging fruit to the forefront,” said Minicucci. “We can make quick changes and improve their operations slowly.”
Alaska currently has two significant initiatives in the works to help mitigate potential delays in the upcoming year, according to Minicucci.
The first is to take a more proactive and collaborative approach with the FAA to identify and minimize ATC delays before they begin to affect the broader network. With excessive pressure put on the air traffic control system and lack of investment in increasing airport capacity, one of the biggest threats to the on-time performance of both Virgin America and Alaska is airport congestion.
“Between San Francisco, Seattle and L.A.–those are three airports that have too much capacity for the facilities, airspace, taxiways and gates they have,” Minicucci said. “We’re experiencing a lot of congestion that’s affecting our performance, so we’re launching a huge ATC initiative to see how we restructure our network and our schedule to optimize our performance.”
To aid in this effort, Alaska has launched weekly System Operational Performance Leadership (OPL) meetings at Virgin America. At these meetings, team members from divisions across the airline gather to analyze individual details that had an impact on on-time performance.
“We’re taking baby steps right now, and I would say that it’s going well,” Minicucci said. “We’re asking ourselves if there is a way of doing this where you’re not compromising revenue, you’re not throwing too much cost into it because you’re just adding time to the schedule, so we’re going to be really smart about how we do this. ”
The second initiative is centered around preparing operations for severe weather, particularly in areas like the Pacific Northwest that just emerged from its coldest winter in 32 years. Minicucci acknowledges that between the freezing rain in Portland and the snow in Seattle, Alaska and Virgin America are going to do something different this fall to improve snow operations.
“We’re going to look at that hard, so it impacts our performance to a lesser extent,” said Minicucci. “This year was a wake-up call for us. We got more than we bargained for and it told us that we just need to do better.”
Interested in learning more about Alaska’s approach to on-time performance? Check out our full exclusive interview with Ben Minicucci, where he elaborates on how the airline navigates the complexities of achieving exemplary operations.