You all know about the trending news story about a Doctor who boarded a United Airlines flight and was forcibly removed when the flight was overbooked. A traumatic event for the Doctor, the passengers who witnessed it and obviously a PR disaster for United. I am not going to get into the rights and wrongs of the whole fiasco, not only because we discuss technology but also I am going to be flying United in a couple of days. Seriously though besides all the operational issues it got me thinking about overbooking, why it happens and how technology could potentially come to it's aid.

Photo  by Michael Rehfeldt available under a Creative Commons Attribution-license.jpg

  Photo  by Michael Rehfeldt available under a Creative Commons Attribution-license

 

Overbooking is a common practice among all the major airlines as some finite percentage of  passengers are going to miss their flight, due to delays and other reasons. Rather than letting the planes fly with unoccupied seats, airlines to be more profitable overbook, in the hope that some passengers are not going to show up. If they do show up, then they offer incentives starting at eg $400, and that can get bumped up to larger amounts, $800+ for a passenger to take a later flight (in the United incident they needed to get other crew on board and the incentive didn't work for this passenger).

 

Booking tickets for seats and the incentives are all handled by software, yes an algorithm. However it's not all about technology, the culture of an organization plays a role, which brings us to DevOps. How could DevOps help address the issue? A few semi-random thoughts and this is not meant to be comprehensive and bullet-proof.

 

  1. Active user/customer/stakeholder participation and a thorough understanding of customer use cases
  2. Continuous build, integration, test, deploy, pipelines
  3. Experiment and learn
  4. Proactive monitoring with short feedback loops to identify issues and inefficiencies

 

Cultural transformation is never easy or quick. It requires par-excellence communication and collaboration, the ability to resolve conflicts, and to be nimble and flexible when and where change is required. Those businesses that deliver value to customers and their organization in a consistent manner will be the successful ones.