Saturday, August 20, 2011

Are they partners or what?

Here is an interesting process problem I discovered when trying to check into my flight home from Singapore.   Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines are both Star Alliance, so they code share.  My Singapore to Frankfurt flight was Singapore Air and my Frankfurt to Boston was Lufthansa. But I bought the whole ticket from Lufthansa (on their site) and the flight numbers were all listed as Lufthansa.  But when I went online to check in, Lufthansa knew I was going Frankfurt to Boston and let me print out that board pass.  But they had no record of the Singapore flight.  Then I logged into Singapore Air’s web site and they had no record of it either.  So I could print out my second boarding pass, but not my first one.  I had to do that at the airport.  Very weird.  In Boston on my way to Singapore, I used the Lufthansa kiosk and it let me print out both.  

Mass production versus batch production

It doesn’t happen much any more, but I still travel internationally enough to get a meal on a plane every once in a while.  I always request a special meal when I buy my ticket.  They have lots of choices.  Low-fat, Kosher, Vegan, Hallal, Diabetic, Bland, etc.  Any special needs and they will make something up for you.  And they make it up during the catering process, not in the plane, so it is different food ingredients altogether.

Why blog about this?  Am I informing you I am becoming vegetarian?  Or Kosher?  Nope.  I think the title of the post gives it away.  There are a few relevant issues that I have discovered due to this process.  First of all, I don‘t actually need any of the special meals.  I usually just pick one at random (except for low-cal and bland).  But when they are serving a plane of 300 people (500 on the Airbus to Singapore I think), they use a mass production process to cook and assemble the meals.  But for the special meal, they just make one.  So it is made individually.  Just that amount of extra care usually means it will taste much better.  Plus, it usually has better ingredients anyway.  Sometimes this doesn’t work, but I would say 90% of the time batch beats mass production.

Second thing is that they deliver it before they go around with the regular meals for everyone else.  Since I usually sit in the back of the plane, I am usually done before they get even close to my row with the cart.  So if I am still hungry, I can ask for some of the items off the main meal and there are usually some extra.  Since I am at the back of the plane, they are just about done serving and can eyeball how much they have leftover.  I feel a little guilty eating before the people around me, but I don’t think it’s the same as at a restaurant because I don’t even know them and many of them have brought their own snacks to eat anyway.

Something else I learned on the Lufthansa flight.  Almost every flight I have ever been on, they start the drinks cart and the food cart (snacks or meal) at the same place, front or back of the plane.  On this flight, they started the food at the front and the drinks at the back.  So everyone had something sooner.  I think that is a great idea.