Passenger check in process
In 2008, new baggage and other revenue generating policies are carried out by airlines to overcome the economy situation and volatility in the oil market. These new policies executed by airlines challenge the check-in experience of passengers at airports. It is important for airlines to make sure that the right classifications of passengers are using their right mode of check-in system. Both airlines and passengers have to work together to achieve satisfied check-in experience.
The satisfied check-in experience is achieved only if the passengers select the right mode of check-in system without polluting the check-in queue on the actual day of their flight departure. The passengers polluting the queue not only affects their check-in experience but also degrades the service experience of actual passengers belonging to that queue. As a result the passengers spend longer time inside the check-in system and receive unpleasant travel experience. The waiting time of passengers inside the check-in system is one of the most important deciding factors of passenger satisfaction. Some of the recent studies (Power, 2008; Morphy, 2008; Power, 2009 and ACSI, 2009) indicated that the customer satisfaction is declining in last years.
This thesis research focuses on assessing the impact of passenger segmentation on check-in experience and its effect of queue pollution. A major airline’s check-in system will be used to analyze the problem. Based on the problem statement and objectives of this thesis research it requires simulation modeling to design and analyze the problem. Airport configuration and airline processes tend to change and similar questions are answered every time by building simulation or other operations research models from elemental. This thesis research proposes a new methodology of building reusable model components to allow for what-if analysis to study the check-in system. One of the most important goals of this thesis research is to demonstrate the feasibility of developing a decision making reusable template framework with a user interface to evaluate the check-in performance.
This thesis research focuses on the passenger check-in process and it is the first step for passengers when arriving at an airport. The check-in process is nothing but a queuing system which consists of passengers queuing for check-in service. The passengers arrival process and service mechanisms are reviewed to analyze the check-in queuing system.
The passengers arrive to the airport depending on their flight departure time. However, airlines require passengers to arrive certain times before their flight departure to allow sufficient time to complete check-in and reach their boarding gate. Based on flight schedule, aircraft capacity and the number of seats utilized, airlines can forecast the arrival pattern of passengers. But it remains uncertain with the actual arrival of passengers at airports. Depending on time of day, weather, mode of transport, destination, and executive status, the passengers arrive to airport from four hours to one hour before their flight departure time. Therefore, the passenger arrival times at airport check-in is uncertain and does not justify for steady state analysis.
The other variables of check-in process such as process time to complete check-in transaction and the number of resources allocated is also uncertain and it varies based on the passengers destination, time of the day, baggage, passport verification etc. In conclusion, the arrival time and service distributions of the check-in system are uncertain, time dependent and difficult to analyze using queuing theory or analytic methods. Therefore, simulation modeling is required to analyze complex queuing system such as check-in system.
Simulation is abstraction of reality. Simulation modeling is “the process of designing a computerized model of a system (or process) and conducting experiments with this model for the purpose either of understanding the behavior of the system and or of evaluating various strategies for the operation of the system” (Shannon, 1976). Simulation is a powerful tool which helps to evaluate the alternative design or plan of a real system without testing it directly on the actual system.
Significance of Simulation Modeling
The following is some of the significance of simulation modeling:
- Deals with reality
- Performs “what-if” or sensitivity analysis to evaluate the system performance before “what-if” occurs
- Supports decision making and helps business needs
- Compares proposed solutions against current operations or baseline designs
- Allows to interact with business users
- Provides features such as template generation and animation
- Identifies problem areas before implementation
- Allows scenario analysis and identifies inefficiencies
- Assists in verifying and validating the model
According to DeLone and McLean (2002), user satisfaction is a key measure of computer system success. The most important element of user satisfaction is designing a user interface in the system. A user interface is the method by which user interacts with the model design. User interfaces provide a means of allowing the user to modify input system and also responds to the users’ modification. User interface benefits both organizations and individuals. Some of the advantages of designing a user interface are:
- Requires less skill set to run the system
- Involves less work for the users
- Proposes business decision quickly by running the system in short span of time
- Provides easy access to the basic functionality
- Hides the complexities of the model
- Increases productivity
Simulation and User Interface Software
Rockwell Software Arena is selected for designing simulation model and an interactive user interface will be designed in Microsoft Excel. Arena is an easy-to-use tool that allows the users to create and run experiments on models of their systems. Arena simulation software allows the developer to demonstrate, predict, and measure system performance based on key metrics such as costs, throughput, cycle times and utilizations. Arena helps to assess new business design and scenarios in a controlled setting before implementing it on real operations. One of the key feature of Arena is it has a suitable spreadsheet interface to input data variables such as resources and schedules.
Arena is a simple to use software and it integrates well with Microsoft products. Arena includes visual basic for applications (VBA) and is a perfect software for creating Microsoft based user interface. Using Excel VBA and Arena VBA, a user interface will be designed hiding the complexities of the simulation model and output reports will be automated for every scenario runs to review and recommend business decisions quickly.
Reusable Module and Template
With Arena simulation software, modelers can design a unique Arena template that is specific to the developers’ organization. Simulation template framework (STF) proposed in this thesis research is a collection of ready to use Arena based simulation modules with a user interface. A module is pre-defined simulation logic or simulation building blocks that can be used in future models by a single drag and drop. These modules may be very simple in logic or highly complex by capturing all the activities involved in a business process. The modules are collected into libraries referred to as templates or in other words template is a collection of modules. Template is similar to a file folder which contains and organizes the collection of modules. The definition of module and template are explained in detail using a simple example in the following paragraphs.
For example, there are two process stations A and B and based on the probability, the passengers are processed at those stations. Figure 1 represents the traditional way of simulation modeling. The passengers enter the system and based on the probability, the passengers are routed to station A or B. The flow at both the stations is same. The passengers join the queue and seize the resource at station and wait until the transaction is completed. Then releases the resource and exits the system. The above logic flow is represented by using five simulation building blocks and it is circled in Figure 1. The five simulation building blocks “Queue-Seize-Process-Release-Record” which represents the logic flow is repeated for both stations A and B. Converting the five simulation building blocks into a module avoids redundancy and introduces reusability. The reusable module is placed inside a folder and it is referred as a template. Then this reusable module can be used in the future model development by a single drag and drop.
For the same example, a new model is designed using the drag and drop module and it is illustrated in Figure 2. In the new model, the total of ten simulation building blocks is reduced to two blocks by replacing it by reusable module. Reusability brings several benefits such as:
- Reduces implementation time
- Requires slight or no modification to the logic
- Eliminates error and requires no validation
- Decreases maintenance effort
- Provides efficiency and consistency
Steps involved in the Research Methodology
A framework with simulation modeling using reusable templates and a user interface to it will be designed in this thesis research. This simulation framework will be used to demonstrate and evaluate a major airlines’ check-in system. One goal of this thesis research is to assess the impact of passenger segmentation on check-in process and study the effect of passenger polluting the queue. The methodology is an important section of the thesis research and it defines everything that is involved with the activities in the research. The flowchart in Figure 3 represents the proposed research methodology and it involves four major steps to evaluate the check-in performance.
Step 1: Analyze existing Check-in System and Collect Data
Airports are divided into two areas, landside and airside. Passengers access airside areas through terminals. An airport terminal is a building with facilities for processing passengers. Inside the terminal, passengers check-in for their flight at check-in counters, purchase tickets from ticketing agents, handover luggage to agents and go through security. No two airport terminals are alike and each airport terminal has its own specifics and facility layout. Similarly no check-in system is same among airlines, but the check-in system and its process remains consistent within the same airlines. In general, layout of the check-in system is very much influenced by the spatial configuration. A major airline’s check-in system is studied to analyze and evaluate the impact of passenger segmentation and its consequent effects.
Flowchart for the Proposed Methodology
The following are the steps involved in analyzing a major airline’s check-in system to understand the business processes and passenger flow.
- Analyze the layout of airport lobby to find out the arrangement of different modes of check-in counters and collect relevant data.
- Identify all the different check-in modes available for passengers to check-in and analyze historical data
- Examine every individual process steps and resources involved in completing the check-in transaction
- Analyze the passengers arrival profile, segmentation, their flow and queue at lobby
- Identify and analyze the necessary information such as passenger group size, baggage, passenger load, service times and resource allocation required to develop the passenger check-in system
The outcome of the mentioned steps is used in designing the check-in system and the data collected are used for two purposes. Some of the collected data are inputted in to the model and the remaining ones are used for validating the model.
Step 2: Design and Develop Airline Check-in system
A reusable simulation template framework (STF) is designed and developed to evaluate the check-in experience of passengers and it is comprised of five main components.
- Design and develop a library of pre-configured simulation modules as shown in Table 1 to represent the individual business processes of the major airlines’ check-in system
- Design and develop airline lobby templates by consolidating all the individual modules of the check-in system. The list of airline templates to be developed is shown in Table 1
- Design, develop and animate an airport check-in simulation model using the airline lobby templates to evaluate the check-in performance
- Identify all the input and output parameters to build a user interface
- Develop a user interface in Microsoft Excel and automate output reports for every “what-if” scenarios
Step 3: Analyze and Validate Airline Check-in System
The data collected from the first step is analyzed and inputted into the check-in model to verify if the model is successful in producing the results correctly. Validation is an important step in designing a model because it is directly related to the credibility of the design and model analysis. The following are the steps involved in the testing and analysis of simulation framework and the check-in simulation model.
- Analyze the check-in system by varying all the input variables to make sure if the model is generating the output appropriately
- Test and validate the individual processes of the check-in system
- Test the user interface and its communication with the check-in system
- Verify the check-in model in animation mode to validate the passenger flow
- Verify the model using numerical inputs and outputs and refine the framework
Step 4: Evaluate Airline Check-in Performance
The simulation model will be used to conduct experiments to study and evaluate the check-in system of non executive passengers using traditional and self-service check-in counters and the measure of polluting each other queues. The queue pollution will be categorized into different levels such as low, medium, high and will compute the threshold where the waiting time is not considered as a delay and the size of the queue is tolerable. Various what-if scenarios will be conducted to evaluate the service level of non executive passengers using the different check-in counters. Also the input parameters of the model will be varied for different scenarios to estimate manpower and other resource requirements for the check-in system. The following are the steps involved in performing sensitivity analysis to evaluate passenger check-in system.
- Implement the verified and validated check-in system using airline data
- Identify all the what-if scenarios for all possible input parameters
- Flight schedule
- Passenger load
- Staffing schedule
- Passenger segmentation or classification
- Check-in counter usages
- Passenger routers or distributors
- Queue pollution logic
- Perform what-if analysis for input settings and evaluate check-in performance
- Summarize the findings from what-if analysis
- Recommend solutions if applicable