Lean-oriented folks like us are ingrained with a mentality to look at all activities in terms of whether they add value to the customer. As a result of that mental focus and awareness we become just a little sensitive to issues of customer value, which is why stories like the following make us sit up and scratch our noggins.
Planes wait while controller takes a potty break. Yes, really. And not just any planes.
Two airliners had to circle for 18 minutes and a plane ferrying human lungs for transplant was briefly delayed Friday while an airport’s lone air traffic controller took a bathroom break, the controller’s union said. The break lasted 12 minutes, but said a few additional minutes lapsed as the planes were realigned to land.
Of course when nature calls… well, action needs to be taken. There was a small attempt at planning for this contingency.
The controller, whom neither named, had been on duty at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport about two hours and 40 minutes Friday when he had to take a bathroom break. Because the only other employee in the tower was not certified to handle takeoffs and landings, the controller notified FAA’s Boston consolidated terminal radar approach control, or TRACON, that he was taking the unscheduled break. FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the controller, who had handled 60 aircraft during the first three hours of his shift, acted responsibly by waiting until a slow period before taking his bathroom break.
But "waiting for a slow period," while acting responsibly, still inconvenienced the customer. A break of a relatively short 12 minutes after three hours could be considered an indication that the controller was thinking of his customers by not having the squid stirfry for dinner the night before, or the mongo breakfast burrito in the morning. Let alone a 7-Eleven super big gulp or a couple of Starbucks venti caramel macchiatos.
A kaizen of this situation would be interesting. The problem is obviously that passengers and lungs… customers… were delayed. So how do we create an improved future state? Define the types of food and drink that can be consumed? Perhaps, but breaks still need to occur, and a 12 minute break after three hours seems reasonable.
Completing the training for the secondary controller or adding a controller is the easy way out, but not necessarily required. Instead, perhaps breaks could be actually scheduled, at more frequent intervals to avoid bladder strain (not to mention simple controller fatigue), and then incoming and outgoing traffic could be scheduled ahead of time to avoid takeoffs and landings during that time.
Next time you’re heeding nature’s call, think about how you’re impacting your customer…