Among the five largest domestic airlines, US Airways came in first during the month of May in on-time performance, baggage handling and fewest customer complaints. US Airways Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom talks about the progress the company is making.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. May was a pretty good month for U.S. Airways. That's according to a July report from the Department of Transportation. Among the five largest domestic airlines, U.S. Airways was first in on-time performance, baggage handling and customer satisfaction. Here to talk about that and other airline news is Robert Isom, Chief Operating Officer for U.S. Airways. Good to have you here, thank you for joining us.
Robert Isom: Thanks, Ted, appreciate it.
Ted Simons: That is a pretty impressive turn around. What happened?
Robert Isom: It is fantastic. It is just one month.
Ted Simons: Right.
Robert Isom: But every measure that the D.O.T. takes statistics on, we came in number one among the big network carriers. All 31,000 employees of U.S. Airways are really behind it, and it comes from a few years back when we ranked dead last in just about every measure to today we're number one. And it has really been a combination of getting flights out on time, really making sure that we do the right thing with baggage. What things don't go right, making sure we recover with passengers.
Ted Simons: Take those one at a time.
Robert Isom: Sure.
Ted Simons: Getting flights out on time. It sounds like there is a new idea which is get the first ones out on time and the rest will follow.
Robert Isom: Ted, that is exactly right. When you take a look at it, no matter what party you're dealing with in the airline, whether it is customers or employees, if the flight gets out on time in the beginning of the day, has a better chance to make it through the entire day on time. Which means first off passengers get to where they want to go, it is easier to connect back, and for our employees it really makes for a much more enjoyable day for them.
Ted Simons: Was it an increased focus on getting the earlier flights out? I imagine before the idea was to get the flights out on time.
Robert Isom: It has always been there but having the resources ready to go with the same goal, which means departure out on time, not five seconds later or 10 seconds later but on time is the key, and auditing and training to make sure the flights get out on time.
Ted Simons: You mentioned baggage handling there. Good scores there. There is some sort of scanner plan in effect? What is going on there?
Robert Isom: With almost 95% of our bags now, we're scanning at just about every point of contact so on to airplanes, off of aircraft and sometimes in baggage rooms and it has really done a tremendous amount of good for us in being able to track bags and identify issues to make sure we're doing things right.
Ted Simons: So not only getting the things on the plane, but if a mistake happens, knowing where they are.
Robert Isom: Exactly. With the scanner, say you're on the line in Phoenix and you come across a bag that you're scanning on to a flight, and if it is not supposed to be on that flight, there will be a beep that tells you, hey, it's not supposed to be on that flight, put it on another flight, or rather the right flight.
Ted Simons: Never good to hear a beep.
Robert Isom: Exactly. Never.
Ted Simons: Fewest complaints. Number one in fewest complaints. Again, from what I understand, a new tracking system, an I.T. kind of thing?
Robert Isom: New tracking. It really goes back to a few years ago when we said, hey, look, we really want to get customer feedback in the hands of people that can do something about it, so identifying problems in the system no matter where they are, and creating actionable information to address customer issues, not only for that specific customer but for the next one to make sure whatever happened we do it right in the future.
Ted Simons: Managing expectations a big part of that.
Robert Isom: Managing expectations and certainly doing a lot of work to follow-up on any issues, so we put in place measurements in just about every aspect of the operation and audited really just about every measurement, as well.
Ted Simons: These changes we talked about, were they slow to come around because of merger issues? What was going on here in how come we're not hearing about this earlier in.
Robert Isom: No, it is not about merger issues, it is about getting everybody aligned and heading in the right direction. We did that back in 2007, first trying to get flights on time and taking that message further to reliability, convenience and really focusing on our appearance, making sure aircraft are clean and people are presenting themselves in the right way.
Ted Simons: Something as simple as that makes a difference.
Robert Isom: It makes a difference, especially when you put a strategy around it all, roll it out, have everybody behind it and day in and day out executing against it.
Ted Simons: As far as employees are concerned, bonus programs, I hear they're in effect. How much do they help?
Robert Isom: We have a triple play program, somewhat based off of baseball, but what it measures is first place rankings in any of the D.O.T. categories, the three, and we've had pretty good success, paying out $50 to each employee for a number one ranking in those measures. This year, we paid off in April, and then you know, with the three times, in May. Just fantastic work. And so over the last couple of years, we've paid out a considerable sum of money, well over $1,000 to every employee in the company.
Ted Simons: I hate to put a cloud over the parade, but I saw another survey regarding frequent fliers. U.s. Air didn't do as well with terms of services and availability for frequent fliers. What is going on there?
Robert Isom: Frequent fliers, we're very interested in what they have to say to us, so we track as well as anybody does what's going on. And for the most part, our frequent fliers tell us what they really find important, and one of the big things they find important is the ability to upgrade and we do better than most airlines and that's a really important measure. You combine that with what we do with clubs, combine that with what we're doing with overall reliability, we fare pretty well.
Ted Simons: A good month, how do you make sure you have another good month and another one and another one. How do you keep this going?
Robert Isom: You're only as good as the last flight, and when you're handling hundreds of thousands of passengers a day, it doesn't take much to have somebody that is not pleased with you. What we do is making this a part of our culture, institutionalizing departing on time, institutionalizing being the best at recovering when things don't go right, and putting in place the systems and all the people around that.
Ted Simons: So can this be done when -- I'm not even in the business and I'm hearing about merger rumors. The folks that work for your airline, they must be hearing about this. How do you keep morale up, and what do you know about a merger rumor? What is going on?
Robert Isom: Ted, as you know, we don't comment in terms of the way we run the business, we have been advocates, actually with the merger of America West and U.S. Airways, real sponsors of mergers and consolidation in the industry, but to our employees it's running the business the same way whether there is that kind of rumor out there or not. The best thing we can do is service our customers, make sure they get the product they paid for day in and day out.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.
Robert Isom: Ted, thank you very much. Great to be here.
Robert Isom:Chief Operating Officer, US Airways;