Aviation: Not Easy

From the chronicles of “Easier Said Than Done, Airline Edition”: five lessons on innovation and the future of organizing.

Making a commercially viable airplane is hard. Putting two airlines together: just as hard. My favorite aviation forums pointed me to two awesome articles over the last several weeks. One is from this time last year and is about the blending of United and Continental airlines. The other is from a few weeks ago and dives into the root causes of Boeing’s issues with the 787 (some of which stem from a merger!). You should read both of them.


  1. Let the nerds run the show. Some management layer will probably always be necessary, but you’ll rarely process and cost-cut your way to an awesome, viable solution.
  2. The relative amazingness of everything we interact with has changed our standards for everything else. So what is a relatively minor issue for the 787 (as compared to, say, catastrophic cargo-door pop-offage for the 747) could end up killing it before it got a chance to, um, fly. I’ve written about this before.
  3. Everything that you think is easy is not, in fact, easy. Getting better airplane coffee means you’ve got to work with your coffee vendor, coffee equipment vendor, create guidelines for temperature, time, etc., train people on those guidelines, check for compliance…and that’s not even including the logistics/pricing issues associated with getting the coffee inside the plane.
  4. Especially in airlines, but this is probably true for most businesses: the core digital/human systems that underpin complicated business ecosystems are extremely expensive, extremely valuable, and deeply entrenched. Something that seems like a small change is usually a major headache.
  5. Customer service and worker autonomy/engagement/happiness decline in tandem. Hard to pin a causal tail on that donkey, but it would seem that when autonomy goes away (maybe even for good reasons), engagement goes down, then happiness, then customer service.

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