Boarding an EasyJet plane recently, it was immediately noticeable that the plane had been fitted with superbly comfortable new slim-line seats. Hold on, I thought, what are cash conscious EasyJet doing spending money on such a luxury?
Curiosity got the better of me and after returning home I did a bit of research to find out what was behind the change. Quite a lot, it transpired.
EasyJet, like all aircraft operators, work on long lead times when ordering their planes, and having committed to a delivery of new aircraft over the next 5 years, they decided to look again at where they could find further efficiencies to squeeze every last penny out of the deal they had agreed.
It turns out that seating was the area where most gains could be made.
So their challenge was this: How could they make even more money from their new planes without compromising on passenger comfort?
Working in collaboration with seating manufacturers Recaro, EasyJet were forced to take a completely different view of cabin layout – the cabin couldn’t be made any bigger, so it seemed a classic ‘fixed limitation’, which meant they had to get inventive. Together with Recaro, EasyJet immediately identified a small amount of wasted space at the back of the plane and began to explore how this could be better utilised.
In meetings with EasyJet, Recaro identified that there was just enough space to slightly realign the seat configuration within the cabin, allowing them to utilise an innovative new slim-line seat design which had not yet been produced at scale.
This cabin realignment plus the new slim-line seat design could potentially allow a further 9 seats to be fitted to the ordered aircraft, representing a massive revenue gain per flight. However, introducing a further 9 seats would have had a significant impact on the pitch of the seats, thus negatively affecting passenger comfort. EasyJet decided to add in only 6 additional seats per plane, in order to maintain existing levels of passenger comfort. As it so happens, the combination of foams used in the new SL 3510 seat served to actually increase comfort.
The new Recaro plane seats were a lesson in how to embrace constraint to maximise reward and return. Taking the learning from their supercar seat designs, Recaro managed to reduce the quantity of parts used in each seat by 100, which resulted in a seat weighing only 9kg. This translated into a weight saving of nearly 600kg per plane, the equivalent of 26% of the total weight of each new EasyJet aircraft.
The commercial gains for EasyJet and Recaro, by collaborating to overcome constraints is set to be very significant. As a direct result of the weight savings across the 14 new aircraft fitted with the new seats, a fuel cost saving of some £2.7m/year is set to be made, plus the additional revenue from 6 additional passengers. This will flow straight to EasyJet’s bottom line. The massive CO2 saving resulting from the reduction in fuel use means there will be a positive environmental impact too. A great PR story thrown in for free.
So, what lessons can we learn about working with constraints from the EasyJet story?
1) Being continuously curious about the assumptions surrounding the limitations and constraints you work with on a daily basis can yield some exceptional commercial rewards. Even though you may have committed to a long-term commercial arrangement, there may still be room to improve the original deal substantially, benefitting all the stakeholders in the supply chain.
2) Working collaboratively with business partners can help identify which constraints can be leveraged most productively. Some of the identified benefits of working with the constraints can seem very small initially. Yet working with these with both a positive and ambitious mindset can yield much larger rewards in a number of different areas.
3) By being prepared to look both inside and outside the boundaries of your businesses (in this case, getting inspiration from supercars), this can bring a new level of inventive solutions to what might seem like impossibly stubborn constraints. This can result in a positive cycle of continuous development and innovation.
4) Many of the commercial results that emerge from working with constraints cannot always necessarily be identified right at the start. It is only by working with the constraint tirelessly and persistently at the beginning that the various layers of benefit and reward might start to slowly peel away (the Russian doll effect!).
5) Finally, keeping the customer front-of-mind is critical. Just because you can wring out every last penny from a constraint, this won’t count for much if your planes are half empty because your customers are complaining of backache.