How do baseball rules apply to airlines?

iStock_000000472497_SmallA friend of mine is a big baseball fan – so much so that he sacrifices many nights of sleep to watch major league baseball games live on television. In contrast, I don’t know a lot about baseball, but one of the basic rules is clear to me: three strikes and you’re out.

Following recent news about pilot strikes at Air France/KLM and Lufthansa, I get the feeling that the same rule of baseball may apply here in a variety of ways: Passengers, airline management, planners ― they all have their own version of the rule. And all of them may have sleepless nights just like my friend does, but for completely different reasons.

The passenger perspective is clear: If you haven’t had the “pleasure” of facing the consequences of a severely delayed or cancelled flight, you only need to spend a few minutes on to read frustrated passengers’ cries on how they will never book a flight with the same airline again. Let me give you the short, polite summary of their thoughts: “Dear airline, three strikes and you’re out – in my books.”

Air France CEO Frederic Gagey estimates that the current strike would cost Air France 10 to 15 million euros a day. That’s a big impact on bottom line results, which in turn will further increase the pressure on the airline. So from an airline management perspective: three strikes and you’re out – of profit.

It’s probably professional bias on my part, but I cannot help picturing how the poor planners would have to quickly adjust complex schedules in response to heavily disrupted operations. Similar strikes earlier this year forced Lufthansa to cancel 3,800 flights. That’s a lot of work and pressure for the teams in charge of schedule planning, and allocation of staff and aircraft to flights that may or may not take off, depending on whether the strike continues for another day. Life in the planning offices and control rooms can be immensely hectic when disaster strikes. If I were an airline planner, I would probably be out myself after three strikes – knocked out, that is.

So what is needed to solve such aviation issues? How can the pilots and their employers come to an agreement that works for both sides? This requires a session of working through various scenarios and discussing the decision’s impact on the pilots, airline and passengers. There has to be a balance in taking care of every party’s interests.

And during the discussion, is the impact of each option discussed always clear to everyone? Are they in the position to seriously consider a range of options to reach a win-win situation? It will be difficult without the ability to analyze alternate plans and their impact on business objectives and on stakeholders. Under such intense pressure, the decision makers will benefit from a tool that enables them to quickly calculate consequences of adjusted rules and arrangements. This will allow them to arrive at a well-informed joint decision.

Indeed, it does seem that baseball and airlines are similar in many ways. Here is one final important similarity: With a powerful tool in hand and good visibility of what’s coming ahead, both baseball batters and airline companies can look forward to an encouraging outcome – be it a homerun or smoother business operations.

What are your thoughts on the impact of strikes on the aviation industry? Let us know in your comment below or drop us a tweet @Quintiq.


Aviation, Workforce Optimization


Marcel Dreef.

Bookmark the permalink.

Marcel Dreef

About Marcel Dreef

I love playing with numbers, words, pictures and music. And I want to do more of all of that, but time is always scarce. The desire to have more time is one of the reasons I am impatient with inefficiency, and why I enjoy lifehacking. But even then making conscious choices and careful planning are required to make it all work. In that sense I consider myself my most demanding customer. For my PhD research I spent 4 years studying the mathematics of poker and other casino games. I thought I wouldn't be able to find something even more fun to work on after that, but I am glad that I found Quintiq to prove myself wrong. As Neil Young sang in the year I was born: "In the field of opportunity it's plowin' time again!"