How far will an airline go in the effort to keep flights on time? British Airways recently came up with a new way to save time before takeoff: don’t clean the cabin between flights.
The airline experimented with this idea on the bustling route that runs from London Heathrow Airport to Dublin Airport.
The pressure to arrive and depart on time is tremendous. When one flight arrives late, it can cause a costly chain of delays with other flights.
Since delays pose such a threat to profit, concern about late flights is understandable. Few would blame airlines for striving for on-time arrivals. But is cutting the cabin cleaning a good way to accomplish this?
Typically, planes are cleaned by after landing, but not by the cabin crew. Flight attendants normally take a scheduled break after passengers disembark. During that time, a ground crew boards the plane to remove rubbish and clean up.
In the British Airways experiment, flight attendants were to try to tidy up before landing, but there was no cleaning crew.
How did this decision affect workers and passengers?
Reassigning tasks from one group of workers to another raises concerns. In this case, the removal of the cleaning step drew comment from union leaders. They insisted that flight attendants were not to replace cleaning crew members.
As this is one of Europe’s busiest routes, one would also expect passengers to notice changes in cleaning standards quickly.
Airline management anticipated this. They proposed that the crew answer any questions about cabin conditions with an apology and an explanation that the airline was trying to avoid delays by skipping the cleaning step.
The airline was apparently counting on timeliness holding more value for passengers than cleanliness. Timely flights are very important to airline passengers, but it’s not clear if they found the apology and explanation acceptable.
Despite the flight attendants’ efforts to remove litter before landing, the change did not escape passengers’ notice. The un-emptied garbage bins and seat pockets filled with rubbish were in view. There were also reports of dirty bathrooms.
The British Airways trial is over for now. Will time and cost savings become so important that it ’s acceptable to skip the cleaning step? There’s no way to tell, but it’s reasonable to expect airlines to continue looking for ways to save money and time.