Skip to Main Content
In the late 1990s, tightly coordinated airline schedules unraveled owing to massive delays resulting from inclement weather, overbooked flights, and airline operational difficulties. As schedules slipped, the delayed departures and late arrivals led to systemwide breakdowns, customers missed their connections, and airline work activities fell further out of sync. In offering possible answers, we emphasize the need to consider the customer as participant, following the human-centered computing model. Our study applied ethnographic methods to understand the airline system domain and the nature of airline delays, and it revealed the deficiencies of the airline production system model of operations. The research insights that led us to shift from a production and marketing system perspective to a customer-as-participant view might appear obvious to some readers. However, we do not know of any airline that designs its operations and technologies around any other model than the production and marketing system view. Our human-centered analysis used ethnographic methods to gather information, offering new insight into airline delays and suggesting effective ways to improve operations reliability.