Critical Thinking about Cause and Effect: The Checked Baggage Conundrum

This Saturday marks the 9th anniversary of September 11th, 2001- a day that changed the lives of Americans forever.  The effects of 9/11 are still easily recognizable when you step into any airport.  If you have traveled anytime in the past few years you know that when you step through security you must remove your shoes, hat, and jacket.  If you are wearing a sweatshirt or anything puffy you will be patted down in secondary screening.  You may not bring through any liquids larger than 3.4 ounces, and even those bottles must be enclosed in a zip-lock bag and sent through the x-ray machine alone to be examined more closely.

All of these new rules changed the way travelers behave. For example, I choose to wear flip-flips or slip on shoes to make my trip through security faster.  Because of the rules on liquids, I choose not to carry on my bags.  To me, the extra planning required for preparing liquids for travel isn’t worth it.  I would rather check my bags and take all of my hair and make-up products without any hassle.

Many people felt the same way, and as a result the number of bags being checked for flights increased substantially.  In addition, airlines were suffering financially, which created the perfect storm for needing to find additional revenue from customers.  Most airlines began charging anywhere from $20 to $35 per checked bag for each passenger.  This helped create a new line of revenue for airlines, but made people think twice about checking their bags.

As a result, many people went back to carrying on their bags and dealing with the annoyance of the TSA liquids rules.  As you travel today you will notice that security lines are slow-moving as people rifle through their personal belongings to produce their zip lock bag full of liquids for the x-ray machine.  In addition, if you fly on a full flight, you will notice that there is often not enough room in the overhead bins for all of the carry on bags.  Even when there is enough room, the loading and unloading process takes longer than it did previously because it takes time to retrieve bags from the overhead bins.

At each step along the way, the changes in rules/processes created new problems for travelers.  When a company makes a change in procedures, they must take into account how the change will affect customers. If we critically think about the likely cause-and-effect of a new rule, we could anticipate the new challenges we will face.

  • When you change a TSA rule for carry on bags, people will check their bags.
  • When people check more bags, you need more staff to handle the checked bags.
  • When you charge per checked bag, you cause people to carry their bags on again.
  • Carry on bags take longer to screen in security, so you need more staff to handle security lines.
  • More carry-on bags add time to the loading and unloading process for flights which can cause flight delays.
  • Flight delays cost airlines money and can impact connecting flights of your customers.
  • Unless you create additional overhead bin space, it is unlikely there will be enough room for all carry on bags.
  • Without sufficient room for all carry-on bags, some customers’ bags still have to be checked at the time of boarding.
  • Those customers whose bags are checked at the last minute then must wait for baggage handlers to find their stowed bags and bring them up to the loading ramp before they can proceed to their destination.

As you can see, each procedure change caused a chain reaction of challenges for the airline and customer.

Are you planning a process or product change in your organization?  Have you thought critically about the impact on your customers, employees, and vendors?

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Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens.  She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training.  She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting.  She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.

One response to “Critical Thinking about Cause and Effect: The Checked Baggage Conundrum”

  1. Heather Ishikawa

    Great points! I travel heavily for work and experience these critical thinking moments on a weekly basis. I would also like to point out that each change has to be communicated over and over again. I don’t know how many times I will hear, “take your shoes and jacket off…and place your computer in the bin…no liquids over 3 oz…” The seasoned travelers know the drill but it’s still a new process to hundreds of travelers everyday. This results in additional delays and frustrations.

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