My flight was canceled at O'Hare Airport—again. The same thing happened a few months ago. In both cases, weather was to blame.
Possibly I was tempting fate, as I had planned this as just a day trip—in and out quickly and no luggage. I was not prepared to spend an extra day in Chicago.
I was rescheduled on another airline, only to have that flight canceled just before boarding. The line to the customer service counter filled quickly and stretched to Terre Haute. I called the airline and was kept on hold for nearly an hour. No direct flights were available the next day, so I had to take a circuitous route to get home.
Now, this is not a unique experience. Any frequent flier can testify that air travel isn't what it once was when people dressed up and anticipated a flight with great excitement. Few have such anticipation now, mainly because the customer experience is not what it used to be.
As I was standing in the seemingly endless line while stuck on hold with a rapidly depleting cellphone battery, I overheard other customers changing plans, with many not finding available flights for two or three days. That's when I realized that this was basically an inventory problem. Airlines have consolidated, resulting in less capacity and greatly reduced seat inventory. Whenever disruptions occur, they lack the inventory to recover quickly.
In much the same way, many suppliers in our industry have trimmed their inventories. How easily can they recover when customer demand spikes suddenly, a port strike depletes supply, or a hurricane limits transport? The airlines have no wiggle room. To gain operational efficiencies, they have sacrificed customer service. What do your customers experience when your own supply chains are disrupted? Do you have flexibility built into your systems?
Such supply disruptions also have ripple effects, as I discovered when attempting to find a room for the night. The hotels were swamped and had similar inventory problems. The closest available room was 30 minutes away. When I arrived, the two desk clerks were overwhelmed trying to locate last-minute reservations. The phone rang unanswered and a long queue formed to check in. Several in the line were turned away even though they had made reservations on their smartphones. The computer systems could not keep up with demand, showing inventory that no longer existed.
The inventory ripple effect even extended to complimentary toiletries. Without luggage, I was grateful for anything the desk attendant could spare. I was given a razor, shaving cream, and a toothbrush—but no toothpaste. That's when I realized that being a refugee of modern air travel is like going camping in a business suit.