KAIZEN: A Change for the Better

After nearly 25 years, Delta Air Lines will implement a new processes with the redesign, upgrade and overhaul of its baggage handling system at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where it operates the world’s largest airline hub.

According to the 2007 Airline Quality Rating Report, the overall industry AQR score was lower in 2006 than in 2005, with decreased industry performance in three of the four areas tracked. This includes mishandled baggage rates, which increased from 6.06 per 1,000 passengers in 2005 to 6.50 per 1,000 passengers in 2006.

The Atlanta airport has more nonstop flights and destinations than any airline hub in the world. It serves 243 nonstop destinations, 72 of which are international destinations in 45 countries. In 2006, Hartsfield held its ranking as the world’s busiest airport, both in terms of passengers and number of flights, by accommodating 84.8 million passengers and 976,447 flights respectively. Many of the flights are domestic flights originating in the United States where Atlanta is a major transfer point for flights to and from smaller cities throughout the southern United States.

Finally, more than 50 percent of Hartsfield-Jackson’s airport passengers do not stay in Atlanta but connect to flights elsewhere. As an international gateway to the United States, Hartsfield-Jackson ranks seventh; JFK International in New York City is first.

A colossal number of passengers generating a massive movement of baggage multipling the chances for mishandled baggage, and disgruntled customers. Delta Air Lines plans to change that.

The automotive industry was the first to adhere to Kaizen, which was developed more than 50 years ago by Toyota. Japanese for continuous and incremental improvement, Kaizen is a business philosophy about working practices and efficiency and improving productivity or performance; resulting in improved customer satisfaction.

Delta, as with other airlines, is at a point in time where capital improvements need to be made in several operating areas, including but not exclusive to terminals, baggage sortation systems, GSE equipment, etc. Yet even in today’s culture of lean and efficient processes, customer satisfaction remains at the top of the list. In line with Kaizen, one of Delta’s corporate goals this year is to improve systems to be in the top tier of the baggage handling performance at the major U.S. hubs. “Corporate-wide we have a big baggage initiative going on right now to improve our baggage logistics…every hub…every city,” says Mark Foster, Delta Air Lines regional manager of facilities and member of the GSE management group spearheading the baggage initiative.

The final approval for the Atlanta baggage system project came just this past February, but it has been a long hard road with a number of challenges, as the GSE management group, which also includes Kim Perkins, engineer–GSE and Tim Wix, general manager–GSE, can attest to.

“Spring break of 2005, we reached gridlock in the [South Terminal] lobby. When [a passenger] came in the door they couldn’t determine which direction to go to get to the counters…then after reaching the counters, they had to weave back to the next corridor and then back through security…it was a mess,” Foster states. Working with Corgan Associates, Inc., the lobby was reconfigured from the obstructed perpendicular counter layout to a canted design. “By canting the islands,” Foster says, “we have created an intuitive flow which forces the passengers in the appropriate direction with visibility on all sides.” In addition, 14 ticket counter positions, installed on the lower curb of the south terminal and used for large groups, further alleviate wait time and congestion.

Now that passengers are moving through the terminal to their gates more quickly, it would naturally follow so the baggage would move at least as quickly. So, as a result of the lobby project, the mainline 33-inch-wide baggage “feeder” belts located in the lobby were replaced with 39-inch belts. However, this improvement only deals with part of the problem. Delta has reached its capacity in the bag room. “We want to grow Atlanta which is our home and the center of Delta Air Lines,” Foster says, “but we’ve got to grow the baggage system, which hasn’t been improved in 25 years.”

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