Credit: Matthew Smith

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Operations Management

MIT Sloan and Dartmouth research develops airline scheduling tool to optimize flights and increase profits

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Results published in Transportation Science

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Jan. 24, 2020 – Incorporating passengers’ preferences is an important yet often overlooked part of flight scheduling, resulting in missed profits and customer dissatisfaction. A new approach to flight scheduling developed by MIT Sloan Prof. Alexandre Jacquillat and engineers at Dartmouth College addresses this problem. If implemented, their approach could result in a significant increase in profits for airlines and flight schedules that align better with passengers’ preferences.

“Convenience is of utmost importance to passengers. Yet flight scheduling fails to take this into account because of lack of data on passengers’ preferences and computational complexities. Our study is the first to redesign an airline’s flight schedule to capture recent estimates of passengers’ preferences—using booking data. Our algorithm results in win-win outcomes: better flight schedules for passengers and higher profits for the airlines,” said Jacquillat.

The researchers used 2016 data from Alaska Airlines to introduce an integrated optimization approach to flight timetabling. The model takes into consideration the airline’s operating capabilities and passengers’ preferences, such as flight departure times and connections.

The model’s flexible and comprehensive approach would enable airlines to increase the number of passengers with one-stop itineraries, and, consequently, dramatically increase the operating profit compared with the most advanced approaches currently used in the industry. In addition, the paper suggests that an airline using this approach would experience a significant increase in market share.

The approach is presented in a paper, “Airline timetable development and fleet assignment incorporating passenger choice,” recently published in Transportation Science, the leading journal in the field of transportation analytics. In addition to Jacquillat, coauthors include Prof. Vikrant Vaze of Dartmouth’s Engineering School and Keji Wei, who was an engineering PhD candidate at Dartmouth while working on the study and is now a senior operations research analyst at Sabre Corporation.

The authors note that the paper doesn’t consider factors such as business strategy and aircraft orders because the data is not available, as well as airport gate availability for simplicity’s sake. Still, the approach is designed to be versatile and usable for a variety of strategic planning decisions made by major airlines with a realistic computational budget.

About the Thayer School of Engineering

Founded in 1867 at Dartmouth, Thayer School of Engineering is one of the nation’s first professional engineering schools, preparing leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges through engineering, research, and entrepreneurship. Thayer offers undergraduate and graduate degrees under a unified department of engineering sciences. Consistently ranked among the top colleges and universities for its commitment to teaching, Dartmouth is the first national research university to graduate a majority-female class of undergraduate engineers. For more information, please visit engineering.dartmouth.edu.

About the MIT Sloan School of Management

The MIT Sloan School of Management is where smart, independent leaders come together to solve problems, create new organizations, and improve the world. Learn more at mitsloan.mit.edu.