Students Consult to Improve Baggage Handling

For many travelers, worrying over the safe arrival of their baggage at their final destination can be the biggest source of stress when traveling by air. With the help of eight Drexel students, American Airlines hopes to ease that stress for passengers traveling through the Philadelphia airport.

Students in LeBow’s Operations and Supply Chain Management and Business and Engineering programs were selected to consult with American Airlines on improving their baggage handling procedures at the Philadelphia airport. The consulting course was one of many developed throughout the year by the Dornsife Office for Experiential Learning and supported by a team of four LeBow faculty members and one from the College of Engineering.

While none of the students had previous consulting experience or prior knowledge of the airline industry, they used knowledge gained from guest speakers on the transportation industry, airport observation, research and interviews to guide their suggested improvements.

“You never really think about it. You drop off your bag; it’s good to go. You assume that it is getting to the plane somehow but there’s so much work behind the scenes that goes into that process. There were so many things that I just would have never known,” says Jackie King, a senior dual major in economics and operations and supply chain management.

In addition to learning about the transportation industry, the students on the project were able to directly apply the concepts they were learning in the classroom.

“[The project] took all the foundational concepts we learned in class and had them play out in the real world,” says Taylor Mosca, who graduated in June and works as a project manager of global operational excellence at Aramark.

“We were able to use all the stuff that we had learned in OPM 341, like the mathematical equations we applied to the time studies to see how quickly workers should be able to do what they were doing versus how long they are actually taking,” says King. “It was really cool to have actual real life application. There was also a lot of researching where we pulled from OPM 315 (layout and design).”

After 10 weeks, the team presented their suggested improvements to decrease mishandled and lost baggage in a 45-page report and a presentation to top executives from the airline. The results focused significantly on the sorting process and included the use of new technology and changing the layout of the T-point area to reduce human error and speed the process.

LeBow students after final presentation to top American Airline executives

According to faculty and students involved in the project, the executives were impressed with the presentation and the innovative ideas they offered. Their ideas were well received and in line with the needs of the airline. A few of the suggestions were options the airline had discussed previously, but the students offered more in-depth research to support the airline’s decision making.

“Their solution was quite comprehensive. It had different elements to it,” says Decision Sciences professor Oben Ceryan, PhD. “It had operational elements. They came up with different equipment layouts and plans for worker accountability and specialization. There was a safety aspect related to the equipment they were using as well as the layout. They tried to provide recommendations that would improve the safety of the workers.”

After completing the project, the students felt they gained more than just knowledge of transportation processes and the airline industry from the project. It offered them a different experience than what they gained in the classroom and on co-op. For some it was about learning new skills and working with a team. For others, it was the satisfaction of making an impact on real life processes.

“None of us had ever done a consulting project before. We’ve had co-ops, but it is not necessarily real life experience the way that consultants do it,” says King.

“We gained insight into how a real consulting project works, including the process we went through to collect the information we needed, analyze the current situation and provide our recommendations to our clients,” says Selina Johne ‘15. “We were given a real client and a real goal. At the end of my undergraduate studies this was the perfect transition to start working in the real world.”

The project was not an easy one, but the faculty who served as mentors and guides through the project felt the students were successful in the situation, which differs significantly from the hypothetical work they have participated in previous classes.

“I think the most important thing they got from this was working with a team in an unknown environment,” says Oben. “The problem definition was clear but then from the definition how to get to a solution was very vague and complicated. They had to work through a lot of unknowns like figuring out what data to collect, how to collect it, what it meant and how they can use it.”

In the end, the project confirmed the students’ decision to enter their chosen field of study by allowing them to work with real life clients and impact real life processes.

“What is really appealing to me about supply chain is there is no end result, you can always improve something. You can always make something better, ” says King.

“The best part was working with real people, real companies and making a real impact,” adds Mosca.