When will the chaos give way to calm?
As we navigate our way out of the most difficult two years of our industry’s history, we continue to face challenges brought about by ineffective operations management all the way through the chain.
I know this may seem like an inflammatory statement and, of course, I will qualify it but, before I do, I have to give credit to how the Middle East airlines and in particular Emirates and the Dubai Airports Authority have manged the rebound of travel exceptionally well. Their demand planning and communications have been so well handled with the customer at the forefront of their thoughts that this should definitely be written up as a case study of how to manage customer expectations, capacity demand and supply, as well as airport operations and growth. The amount of work that is required to do so without the appearance of struggle should be an example to all operations around the globe. I personally have travelled on Emirates throughout the pandemic and beyond and it has felt seamless, even when they have been affected by inevitable delays at the airport, I received an advisory SMS from them 24hrs before my flight and was told to arrive early.
“It seems that we are stepping out of a global pandemic and into further operational chaos but this time of our own making”
Let’s contrast this to Heathrow Airport over the last few months, where delays and flight cancellations seem to have become the acceptable norm. Of course, the difficulties of forecasting demand are not alien to anyone, but the whole world was expecting a travel rebound in 2022.
Imagine if you had booked a holiday which you have been waiting two years for, only to be told your flight was cancelled because the airport couldn’t cope with the demand. Couple this with Heathrow Airport’s request to regulators to double the landing fees per passenger, and it can only be viewed as dysfunctional throughout the entire operation. It will take some time for Heathrow to recover both reputationally and operationally but, in the meantime, arrival numbers into London will be capped having a knock-on effect for all the businesses who rely on tourism as their key source of income. I would be interested to know how many travellers from the GCC changed their travel plans from London in the light of these issues.
But the issue isn’t unique to Heathrow. It has been a similar story at airports across the globe and it is not just air travel that’s broken. Let’s also look at the delays in visa processing which has meant that anyone wishing to travel to a Schengen country or to the US this summer has had to make alternative plans. Processing of Schengen visas used to take up to 15 working days – it’s now taking up to 60. And it is almost impossible to get a US visa appointment at the moment, providing another example of ineffective resource planning which has resulted in travellers from the region selecting visa free countries for their summer travel. It seems that we are stepping out of a global pandemic and into further operational chaos but this time of our own making.
Having worked in operations for most of my career I absolutely understand the difficulties being faced by the industry and how frustrating it is to simply keep moving the bottleneck as Eliyahu M. Goldratt wrote about in his book “The Goal”. I sincerely hope that the challenges we are facing today will be removed before the next major travel period and that operations teams around the world are able to use Dubai Airports and Emirates airlines as a shining example of how to do it right.
* Sammy Musa is Chief Executive Officer for Gulf Reps