Improving airline check-in capacity

OR helps bmi improve use of check-in capacity at Heathrow Airport.

Close up of a blue BMI self check in sign.

The Problem

The second highest frequency carrier through London Heathrow Airport – bmi – has a check-in operation at Terminal 1 that handles up to 10,000 passengers each day.

A range of check-in products are available to passengers – internet, self-service and traditional economy and business check-in.

The airline felt that there was opportunity to make better use of the available check-in capacity, in particular take-up of the self-service product, and therefore reduce waiting times for passengers and congestion in the check-in area, and eliminate the need to expedite for closing flights.

Transport & Logistics Consultancy (T&L) applied OR and industrial engineering based solutions to support bmi in achieving these goals.

The OR Solution

Well-established OR approaches, in the form of process optimisation and capacity modelling solutions, were central to improving the effectiveness of bmi’s end-to-end check-in operation, from passenger arrival at the check-in concourse through to their exit from the area following the transaction.

Solution development was based on root cause analysis of queues and congestion. The T&L team analysed check-in activities on a daily basis for a number of weeks, as well as a series of historical data. This provided the necessary depth in understanding of current constraints, production rates, the effect of passenger behaviour, and existing and potential demand for the different check-in products and transaction types by time of day and day of week.

An industrial engineering perspective was taken in developing appropriate check-in area layout and queue management solutions. The strategy was to alleviate constraints by instilling greater control including removing exception activities from the primary processing path. A hosted queuing system encouraged increased and more effective use of the available self-service check-in capacity.

To enable the client to more accurately calculate capacity requirements following the process improvements, a check-in model was developed. Applying a combination of factors including flight schedules, passenger show-up profiles, production rates and proportional use of check-in products, the model determined the number of check-in and bag drop desks, self-service kiosks and ground handling employees required across the operational day to meet bmi service standards. The custom-designed tool also demonstrated the formation and duration of passenger queues at check-in and established the queuing area requirements for each product type to accommodate waiting passengers at peak times.

The Value

The OR based check-in solution provides the ability to make better use of self-service desk capacity, maximise the success rate of each transaction and minimise the transaction costs in time, resources and equipment for bmi. It has been successful in reducing queue durations and lengths, containing queues within the bmi check-in concourse and improving the customer check-in experience.

The layout was successfully trialled, approved and fully installed and bmi went on to apply the same principles at other UK operating stations.