International airline streamlines cabin crew operations, reduces costs with mobile employee-engagement app
Award-winning Philippine Airlines flies to more than 100 destinations around the globe. In an effort to modernize paper-based systems and reduce delays in communication times, the airline has adopted Microsoft Kaizala as a mobile notification and scheduling solution. Now, it saves a minimum of 10 hours per scheduling change, per employee. The airline has also enhanced security, reduced its carbon footprint, and improved its communication channels with employees.
Flying millions of passengers each year to destinations across Asia, North America, Oceania, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom, Philippine Airlines recently received a four-star rating for product quality and staff service by international air transport rating organization SKYTRAX. This achievement has been the result of a concerted two-year effort by every one of the company’s 8,000 full-time workers, including more than 1,000 pilots and 2,700 cabin crew members.
“Our four-star certification is also a challenge set before all of us in Philippine Airlines,” says President and COO Jaime J. Bautista. “We have to sustain all our gains and constantly keep improving.” With this goal of constant improvement in mind, the company has taken a hard look at its existing systems in need of an upgrade. A prime candidate for improvement was the scheduling and shift-exchanging system for cabin crew members, which was paper-based and relied exclusively on couriers to hand-deliver printed schedule changes to employees.
The associated delays meant that only 10 to 15 documents could be sent out per courier, per day, which sometimes caused notification times to run afoul of local and international regulations. Crew members could then decline their assigned schedule changes, leaving the airline to ask for volunteers to fill vacant shifts.
The outdated system also required employees to visit the head office on their days off to file for scheduling exchanges. This resulted in crowded office conditions and drastically reduced downtime for cabin crew members. The airline needed a modern solution capable of more secure and efficient communication with employees, whether they were in-flight or enjoying their time off. Due to union regulations, the solution would also have to be voluntary rather than compulsory for employees. Therefore, any solution deployed would need to attract employees purely through its advantages over existing systems. For Philippine Airlines, that solution was Microsoft Kaizala.
From mopeds to mobile communications
Microsoft Kaizala is a simple and secure mobile work management and messaging app that brings large groups together, wherever they are. It is ideal for communicating with field workers like the cabin crews and pilots at Philippine Airlines, along with vendors, partners, suppliers, and even customers. With Kaizala, the airline can send text, documents, photos, and videos to its entire connected workforce, or to specific employees or groups. It can also build custom actions into the Kaizala app to fit its exact needs.
“Our initial reason for exploring Kaizala was the notification feature,” says Rosie Domingo, Assistant Manager of Integrated Operations Control at Philippine Airlines. “We have reduced the hours it took to send schedule changes to our employees from hours, or even a full day, to a push notification that takes less than ten minutes to arrive once we hit ‘save’ here on the ground.” Cabin crew members needed little convincing; time savings won through these notifications was by itself enough to drive adoption of Kaizala. This was just the beginning, however.
Streamlined scheduling, better security
Domingo estimates that employees previously spent an average of five hours, including travel time, to request a single shift exchange. Because cabin crew spend their working hours in the air or abroad, they had to submit schedule requests on their days off, when they would rather recover from jet lag.
To address the issue, Philippine Airlines created a custom action card in Kaizala. In this card, employees can offer up shifts they wish to exchange. This information goes to a Microsoft SharePoint site accessible to all cabin crew members. At a glance, they can see available shifts and suggest trades. Once a shift exchange is completed and approved by management, both employees receive notifications that reflect their new schedules. Employees who adopted the solution saw an increase in available hours on their days off, and they expressed a sharp reduction in anxiety thanks to the reliability they now had in their upcoming work schedules.
Not only does this save employees much of their free time, it also eases working conditions and congestion at the head office in Manila. Once implemented, the solution proved so efficient that Kaizala began to eliminate an unmanaged IT solution in use at the airline.
“Employees had started an online chat group to initiate their own shift exchanges,” says Domingo. “Philippine Airlines had no visibility into the group and no control over its membership.” This presented a security concern for the airline, as previous employees could remain in the group and gain privileged scheduling information. Thanks to the efficiency gains introduced through Kaizala, employees have shunned this solution, choosing to work within the company-managed app environment instead. The switch to Kaizala also assures that Philippine Airlines maintains full ownership of its data. Microsoft has no claim on the data the airline houses in Kaizala. The same could not be said for the unmanaged group.
With action cards and notifications covering both ends of cabin crew scheduling assignments, use of Kaizala grew quickly. The app was launched for cabin crew members in March of 2018. Within months, usage grew to 50 percent, without any mandate from the airline. Once the schedule exchange action card became available, usage spiked again—this time to nearly 100 percent of cabin crew employees, all in under a year.
“Once we saw usage climbing, we developed Kaizala as a one-stop app for our cabin crews,” says Domingo. “We added a scheduling suggestion box and a Microsoft 365 action card for broader functionality. We are also currently exploring an employee training action card and an ‘appreciation card’ that will highlight positive employee-customer interactions.”
Reduced costs, increasing employee satisfaction
The success of Kaizala with cabin crew employees did not go unnoticed at Philippine Airlines. The app’s notification features are already driving similar success among the company’s pilots and catering employees. The Security department has begun exploring how it can make use of the solution for its own workers.
As use of Kaizala expands, so will the savings. By moving the crew schedule exchange system to Kaizala, the airline has seen a reduction of 400 sheets of paperwork a day. The streamlined process has also eliminated a layer of approval by an administrative officer, freeing up extra working hours at the administrative office. Phasing out the courier system, still in use due to current union regulation, could generate a monthly savings of USD6,700. Domingo also sees a connection between the airline’s recently acquired four-star rating and the use of Kaizala. “A large part of the SKYTRAX rating is our customers’ experience,” says Domingo. “And when you’ve got a happier, more rested crew, you’ve got happier customers. Through Kaizala, we’ve achieved just that.”