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Sustainability: Moving from Common Sense to Common Practice
2016 International Conference
Leesburg, VA - National Conference Center

September 18th - 21st


Redefining Airline Catering at the World’s Busiest Hub: Using Theory of Constraints (TOC), Lean and Six Sigma (LSS)

Chris Fay - 20-year Delta Veteran




Since exiting bankruptcy, Delta Air Lines has made significant strides in terms of economic health and their position in the airline industry. Fortune magazine named Delta to its list of the Top 50 of The World's Most Admired Companies list the last 2 years, Most Admired Airline Worldwide the last 3 years, and World's Most Admired Companies Airline Industry list. Delta Air Lines also boasts a number one status at the world’s busiest airport.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been the world's busiest airport by passenger traffic since 1998, accommodating over 100 million passengers annually. Delta Airlines accounts for over 50% of the passenger traffic in Atlanta—greater than 50 million annually—with close to 1000 daily departures.


Why change?

Delta’s most recent successes have intensified the competitive landscape in the airline industry. The challenge--to differentiate our airline through customer service and reliability—has increased the complexity of Delta’s service model by route and time of day. This directly affects aircraft catering in that the existing catering model was unable to adapt quickly to changes in capacity, reliability, and customer specification requirements.

What to change?

The competitive landscape has forced Delta Air Lines and the airline industry to rethink their business models, which includes reliability and products offered to customers. For example, Delta’s existing catering model consisted of a standardized full-meal service offered across all cabins to most of the markets they served. That model evolved to a standard minimized product offering—moving away from meal service for economy cabins on most of the markets served. It has given birth to a more methodical approach to service offerings based on flight length, time in-flight, and markets served. This approach to customer service meant the catering model was no longer a standard single-build type across all fleets. It is now a highly variable, flight-specific model.

What to change to?

By utilizing Theory of Constraints (TOC), Lean, and Six Sigma (LSS), Delta’s Operations Continuous Improvement Department partnered with the caterer of the world’s busiest kitchen to develop a new catering philosophy to successfully handle Delta’s growth and highly variable model, and set a new standard for Delta’s catering reliability.

How to cause the change?

This presentation describes the journey utilizing TOC-LSS across and within Delta’s catering operations, the development of an implementation model capable of thriving in the most challenging environment, and the creation of a new platform for system improvement.

How do you measure, refocus, sustain and grow the change?

Through TOC, Delta identified the true key leverage points for implementing change to achieve maximum results. These key leverage points became the new focus areas for performance metrics to drive system performance. The results catapulted Atlanta operations to flagship status for Delta’s catering operation and redefined successful catering now—and in the future. As a result, Delta is reevaluating all hub operations based on the new success model.


Chris Fay is a 20-year Delta veteran who brings many years of Continuous Improvement training and experience from a variety of environments. He is a Master Black Belt with previous experience in Airport Customer Service, Technical Operations, and Cargo with extensive knowledge in the Theory of Constraints, Lean, and Six Sigma disciplines. 


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