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Leigh Randell is supervisor of in-flight services at the Atlanta base of Omega Airlines, a successful regional air carrier with routes throughout the South and Southwest. In addition to Atlanta, it has bases in six major cities.

Randell’s job involves supervision of all in-flight services and personnel at the Atlanta base. She has been with the airline for seven years and in her present job for two years. Although preferring flying to a permanent ground position, she decided to try the management position. In her job, she reports directly to Kent Davis, vice president of in-flight services.

During the past year, Randell has observed what she believes is a great deal of duplication of effort between flight attendants and passenger service personnel in the terminal with respect to paperwork procedures for boarding passengers. This, she believes, has resulted in unnecessary delays in departures of many flights—especially through flights (those that don’t originate or terminate in Atlanta). Because most Omega through flights stop in Atlanta, Randell believes that such delayed departures are probably not a major problem at Omega’s other bases or at smaller airports. Thus, she has decided to try to coordinate the efforts of flight attendants and passenger service personnel with a simpler, more efficient boarding procedure, thereby reducing ground time and increasing passenger satisfaction through closer adherence to departure times.

In this respect, she has, on three occasions during the past two months, written memos to Tom Ballard, Omega’s passenger services representative at the Atlanta base. Each time, Randell has requested information regarding specific procedures, time, and costs for boarding passengers on through flights. She has received no reply from Tom Ballard. His job involves supervision of all passenger service personnel. He has been with Omega for five years, having joined its management training program immediately after graduating from college. He reports directly to Alan Brock, vice president of passenger services at the Atlanta base. Exhibit 1 presents the organization structure for the Atlanta base.

Last week, Leigh wrote a memo to Kent Davis: “For several months, I have been trying to develop a new method for facilitating the boarding of passengers on through flights by more closely coordinating efforts of In-Flight Services and Passenger Services. The results would be a reduction in clerical work, costs, and ground time and closer adherence to departure times for through flights. Unfortunately, I have received no cooperation at all in my efforts from the passenger services representative. I have made three written requests for information, each of which has been ignored. Needless to say, this has been frustrating to me. While I realize that my beliefs may not always be correct, in this instance I am only trying to initiate something that will be beneficial to everyone involved: Passenger Services, In-Flight Services, and, most important, Omega Airlines. I would like to meet with you to discuss this matter and the possibility of my transferring back to flight duty.”

Kent Davis summoned Alan Brock and Tom Ballard to a hastily called conference. Tom Ballard was mildly asked why he had not furnished the information that Randell had requested. “Too busy,” he said. “Her questions were out of sight. There was no time for me to answer this sort of request. I’ve got a job to do. Besides, I don’t report to her.”

“But Tom, you don’t understand,” Kent Davis said. “All Leigh Randell is trying to do is improve the present system of boarding passengers on through flights. She has taken the initiative to work on something that might benefit everyone.”

Tom Ballard thought for a moment. “No,” he replied, “It didn’t look like that to me. You know I’ve also had ideas on how to improve the system for quite sometime. Anyway, she’s going about it all wrong.”
1. What barriers to effective communication do you detect in this case?

2. Is anyone “wrong” in this situation? By what other means could Randell have requested the information from Tom Ballard? What do you think of Tom Ballard’s reaction? Why?

3. While communicating information vertically up or down the organization does not present a major problem, why is horizontal and diagonal communication more difficult to attain? What would you recommend that the management of Omega Airlines do to remedy this situation? How would your recommendations improve communication in the organization?

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