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ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A SCHEDULE PLANNER?

Employee
Employee

Faithful readers here at Nuts About Southwest! (as well as everyone who knows me!) realizes that I LOVE my job.  You could not find another job that I enjoy as much--I am lucky enough to have figured out what I most enjoy doing and have found a way to make a living doing it!  Writing a schedule is sort of like getting paid to work Rubik's Cube, play chess, and solve mysteries, all at the same time.  I'd do this job for free!  (But please...don't tell!)

 

A couple of years ago, we wanted to give people outside of Schedule Planning a taste of what it's like to write a schedule.  So, one of my former colleagues, Susan (shout out, Stich Woman!  We miss you, you shameless extrovert!), created "The Scheduling Game," a board game that closely approximates what we Schedulers go through as we write a schedule.  Market timing, curfews, turntime, equipment restrictions, utilization constraints, it's all in the game.

 

Want to try your hand?

 

Attached to this blog post are three .pdf files--one is a game board, one is the "rules of the game," and one is all of the flight "pucks" you have to incorporate into your schedule.  If you're interested, simply print out the three files (note:  the game board *must* be printed out on 8.5" X 14" paper!), read the rules, cut out the "pucks" (a color printer works best for these!), and try your hand at my stock-and-trade.  Simply arrange the "flights" on the game board until you're satisfied you've met all of the rules and that your schedule is the best that it can be.  When you've achieved schedule perfection, just glue (or tape) the flights onto the game board where you think they should be, then mail your entry to me at the following address:

Bill Owen

Southwest Airlines Schedule Planning,  HDQ1SP

Post Office Box 36611

Dallas, Texas  75235

Read the rules page carefully, as they give you all the needed hints to write a GREAT schedule, Southwest style.  If you have questions, just post them as comments to this blog piece--I'll be watching and will answer ASAP. 

 

OH....did I mention the Grand Prize?

 

Each entry we receive that meets all of the schedule rules (as defined in the "Schedule Rules" .pdf document) will  be evaluated by a panel of three judges from Southwest's Schedule Planning group, including our esteemed Vice President of Schedule Planning, Pete McGlade.  We'll be separating the entries into two categories:  one for Southwest Employees, and one for non-SWA Employees.  The entry selected by the judges as "BEST SCHEDULE in each category will be the winner!  Winners will be announced on this blog on Wednesday, March 11.  Then, on March 23, we'll fly the authors (and one guest each) of those schedules from the Southwest Airlines airport of their choice to Dallas, provide overnight accommodations, then on the 24th we'll treat them to a day at Southwest Airlines Headquarters.  (The Employee winner is responsible for securing his/her time off.)  We're still planning their "day at HDQ" but our current plans include a tour of the campus, meeting Southwest legends Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett, a behind-the-scenes tour of Dallas Love Field, lunch with the entire Schedule Planning Department and various other surprises before being flown back home.  (Note:  plans, and schedules, are subject to change!) 

 

All entries must be postmarked by February 23, 2009.  Each entry must also include the following, clearly legible information: Contestant's name, daytime and evening telephone numbers, SWA Employee number and mail code (if the entrant is a Southwest Employee), age, mailing address, and e-mail address.  Winners must be 18 years or older.  Employees of other airlines and former members of Southwest Airlines Schedule Planning are not eligible to participate.  Only one entry per person, please. Transportation will be provided to and from Southwest Stations; transportation from the winner's home to the nearest Southwest Station is the responsibility of the winner. 

 

Winning entries must adhere to all of the rules on the rules document.  Winners will be judged on the operability of the schedule, attractiveness of departure times, and onestop content.  The decision of the judges is final.

 

So.....are YOU smarter than a Schedule Planner?  Let's find out--and good luck!

 

33 Comments
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Did you not include restrictions on the number of gates at each airport on purpose to simplify the problem?
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Are the flgiht times for the SMF-SNA-SMF service local time or "Herb" time?
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Mr. Owen, Thanks for such a great challenge! I just finished printing my game board and "pucks" and am about to start toying around with a few scheduling ideas I have. I just wanted to leave a comment that I thought this was a really interesting (and fun) opportunity. I can't wait to see what schedules I can come up with. Thanks to you and everyone at Southwest for such a "Luv"-able airline! Respectfully, Jimmy
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I also assume that the SNA-SMF flights that are 'fixed' take the same amount of time as the puck flights?
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Just to make sure I'm understanding the SMF-SNA and SNA-SMF rules. No plane can fly SMF SNA until after 3 and SNA-SMF until after 4, or can we mix in as long as the times don't match?
Employee
Employee
Palal, yes, Palal, exactly. To have included that as a variable (which, in actuality, it certainly is) would have required that I include too much other information about gate availability by time of day. Beckles, the existing SNA-SMF/SMF-SNA flights are listed as local time.
Employee
Employee
Anon--yes, the existing SMF-SNA/SNA-SMF flights have the same block times as the new ones. However, since I don't have any facility constraints built into this game--I"m curious--why do you ask? Dan, you absolutely can intersperse the new SNA-SMF flights with the old ones. Just try for "optimial"spacing between them! Jimmy--thanks for the kind words. Happy scheduling and good luck!
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Sorry: I'm still struggling with understanding rule 9. So you have three flights that leave SMF at 0630, 1200, and 1500 (0830, 1400, and 1600 HT), and three flights that leave SNA at 0900, 1330, and 1600 (1100, 1530, and 1800 HT). That information is there FYI, and not as a prohibition (rule 8 is a prohibition), but obviously we should make efforts to not put an additional SMF-SNA or SNA-SMF puck on top of them. Am I understanding that correctly?
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Can we please email our entries? I'm not in US, so mail will take a while for you to receive. I probably couldn't take the prize even if I won but it sure is fun playing around with this anyway.
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How about more flights for us Dulles SWA FANS!! Like nonstop san diego and LAX phoneix , SFO !!!!
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Mr. Bill and Pete , Can we please ADD nonstop Flights FROM SAN , LAX, PHX, TO DULLES!!!!!
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More customers = more flights. Bring all of your friends and fill our planes. Then we will have no choice but to add flights.
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OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
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Just a minor question, about the flights that are scheduled in the SNA- SMF market. I am assuming those times on the rule sheet is local time (pacific). I know the game board is in pacific time, so i don't want to make an easy error on that rule. Thanks!
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You know, I bet I could write a program that could take all of the constraints and requirements into account and produce a really killer schedule. 😉
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Regarding scheduling. I have been flying SW from ABQ to LAS almost every week for many years. Now I have to fly to Phoenix where the gate agents are rude at best. Every wek I fly Bus Select and when I arrive there I change my flight to the earlier flight not offerred on the net schedule. Every week I get a different answer on flying bus select and making a schedule change on arrival. SW should be able to fix this. One agent sys no problem, others say we can't or won't, others change to bus select by hand, others ask for more money which makes zero sense. Anyone know how to fix this in the system? It's madenning every week. Magic Man

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The "Are you Smarter then a Schedule Planner" couldn't have come at a better time. As a Team Leader the question comes up all the time about "Why do they do this and why to they do that". I already have someone who is planning on playing this wonderful game. This may help them understand the process and what all goes into planning. Thank you for coming up with such a wonderful idea.
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Desmond, The game board is in Central Time, not Pacific. Good Luck to everyone!
Employee
Employee
Desmond, the existing departure times in the SNA-SMF/SMF-SNA markets are in **local** time, but remember that the game board itself is in CENTRAL time, so make certain to convert it before you place your "flight pucks!" Readers, David Michaels that posted above is a member of the team that developed our new Global optimizer. Yes, David, history proves that you certainly can do it!!!! Pdemaggio, without more specifics, I can't look into what the problem is--whether it's a schedule issue, or what. If you'll either post specifics, or contact our Customer Relations Department about your experiences, we'll get to the bottom of this!
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Do we use the block time listed in the puck to determine where to begin our turn time or do we use the end of the puck once placed on the board? For example, SLC-LAX gives a block time of 1:50 but when placed on the board only takes up 1:30. From what point does my turn time begin? Thanks
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How do we determine where our turn time starts? Is it from the block time listed in the puck or is it where the puck ends on the board? For example: SLC-LAX shows a block time of 1:50 but when placed on the board only takes up 1:30. Thanks!
Employee
Employee
Timothy/Anonymous, there is a bit of distortion when creating a .PDF file from an Excel one. So, for the purposes of the game, don't worry about the block times as printed on the pucks. Focus on the departure/arrival times as they "translate" on the game board. And as for turn times, we'll be determining those from the distance between the black lines from the end of one puck to the start of the next puck. If you need more clarification--please let me know! Happy scheduling!
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Hey Bill and Timothy. I had the same issue doing mine as well. Since the game board is 8x14, I solved it by printing the puck as 8x14 as well and they were the right size. Just want to ask, internal source says due the 23rd and this blog says postmarked the 23rd. I am thinking the postmark ruling is official?
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Bill, Im still not getting rule 9...I have two lines built, but the only remaining flights (pucks) are SMF-SNA and SNA-SMF...but I am not sure as to what rule 9 stipulates. It states we must make certain that the three flights we are adding must match up with existing, but the schedule given is for 6 flights? 3 for SMF-SNA and 3 for SNA-SMF. Are those flights that are listed in rule 9 represented by the six pucks for those destinations. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
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Greetings Bill, I know that they use Operations Research with linear/ integer programming to do these fleet optimization & transshipment problems, but could you outline the typical steps that you would take to manually add new lines to your flight schedule? Thank you, Thomas
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any chance you might extend game 24 hrs, i have to go to work( den/ops) and almost finished. thanks for great game jamye fraser
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Great fun, Bill. Mine went in the mail today. When you announce the winner, perhaps you'll include their schedule so we can compare. And maybe note some of the more "interesting" pairings.
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How many entries did you guys end up getting and how do they look so far?
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So....who won? When will we find out?
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So who won? When will we find out?
Employee
Employee
Okay, folks! We received just shy of 70 entries total. We're going through them now, expect to select the winners tommorrow, Friday, March 6, and we'll announce it here on the blog on March 11!!! Thanks to all who participated!
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Hey Bill, I know it is early but do you know when you will post flight schedules for the 1st Quarter 2010. Needing to book with you guys in March 2010 and was just curious when those schedules would be available online Thanks raider 1985