Anticipating Breakdowns

My wife and I recently experienced an airport delay earlier this month, returning home from a business conference in San Francisco. We arrived at SFO early giving us plenty of time to not worry about any unexpected delays with baggage drop off or security. Little did we know that the delays we would experience were with the airplane itself.

After a slow but consistent pace through the security lines, we decided to grab some breakfast at one of the restaurants. Over a nice leisurely breakfast, my phone vibrated and as I looked at the message, I glanced at Clarissa and said our flight has been delayed for two hours.

Finishing the meal, we paid and found a couple of seats near an electrical outlet to feed our various assortment of power-hungry devices such as laptops, an iPad, an iPhone and a Droid X. If we were going to have to wait, at least we wouldn’t have to worry about draining our batteries and looking for a scarce, hard to find resource in Terminal 1.

About 45 minutes later, our flight was delayed another 3 hours. By now we were getting restless and a sinking feeling crept up. Our airline offered food vouchers which we used to grab a couple of bottles of water. The vouchers they provided didn’t quite match up to what beverages actually cost in an airport.

An airline employee made an announcement that they were waiting on a part to arrive from Atlanta. By now things weren’t sounding very promising of getting back home anytime soon. Another announcement an hour later indicated that they had canceled the flight and there was a mad scramble to talk to an airline employee to find another alternative route home.

I started thinking about this mechanical breakdown that the airline was experiencing, and the costs it was incurring as a direct result of not being able to anticipate this issue. I wondered about the possibility of using historical data about the types of repairs that airplanes need and their frequency for the purpose of predicting when certain parts would fail. Since I do not have any domain expertise in the airline industry or the practices that they currently employ, I have no way of knowing if this idea would be worth pursuing or has already been done.

My thinking shifted to software development, and wondered about practices we use or could invent to anticipate breakdowns before they occur for the purpose of lowering future costs. I have a few in mind, and will write about some of them in a future post.

What practices are you currently using, or aware of, to anticipate breakdowns? Have they been successful or not? Why?

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