US Airways is kind of obsessed with its numbers. It’s a good kind of obsession — it regularly touts its improvements in on-time arrivals, misplaced baggage, oversales and other metrics reported every month to the Transportation Department. Why is the airline so fixated on these figures? I asked Robert Isom, US Airways’ executive vice president and chief operating officer.
What’s so important about the numbers?
We focus on these numbers because they represent the reliability and convenience our customers expect from US Airways. These are also the metrics that the media most closely reports on and that all of the airlines are consistently measured against.
These are the measures most often cited as defining an airline as an under or over-performer, and you have to believe that these are the metrics that level the playing field — although, that being said, comparing yourself to an airline that flies, say solely in Hawaii, from an on-time arrival perspective when your operation is based in the Northeast, for example, doesn’t seem to be a great leveler but hopefully you get the point.
Our core beliefs as a company are that at the end of the day, most people want and are willing to pay for a safe, reliable, clean, hassle-free trip where you’re treated with respect along the way, and where your bags arrive when and where you do. So from that perspective, too, these measures work for setting and continually raising that bar for us.
How do you believe being focused on numbers will make you a better airline?
Everyone has a story about the time something went wrong or right with an airline, but when you’re transporting 80 million passengers each year, you really need data to help give some more specific meaning to those anecdotal stories. We look at numbers a lot because these help us identify our weak spots and raise the bar.
When did you start paying closer attention to these figures?
We have always focused on these since the beginning of time. But we really hit our stride in late 2007 when some of the emphasis put into place earlier in the year started showing up in our results.
That combined with continuing an employee incentive program that rewarded employees for hitting our monthly targets in on-time arrivals; baggage handling and customer complaints helped keep our focus as a company, too. Our on-time, every time program, which specifies what every department needs to do to get flights out on time, really started to show results.
Between 2007 and 2008 – we jumped from worst to first in on-time performance among the major network carriers according to the DOT and in 2009 were #2 by one tenth of one percent, making us the most reliable airline over that two-year period.
And once we got our operation running on-time our remarkable improvements in bag handling and customer complaints followed, delivering 64% and 58% improvements, respectively, between 2007 and 2009.
Which of the numbers is the most important to US Airways, and why?