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Keywords:

  • revenue management;
  • resource flexibility;
  • seat inventory control;
  • capacity allocation;
  • aircraft swapping;
  • demand uncertainty

Abstract

A well-studied problem in airline revenue management is the optimal allocation of seat inventory among different fare-classes, given a capacity for the flight and a demand distribution for each class. In practice, capacity on a flight does not have to be fixed; airlines can exercise some flexibility on the supply side by swapping aircraft of different capacities between flights as partial booking information is gathered. This provides the airline with the capability to more effectively match their supply and demand. In this paper, we study the seat inventory control problem considering the aircraft swapping option. For theoretical and practical purposes, we restrict our attention to the class of booking limit policies. Our analytical results demonstrate that booking limits considering the swapping option can be considerably different from those under fixed capacity. We also show that principles on the relationship between the optimal booking limits and demand characteristics (size and risk) developed for the fixed-capacity problem no longer hold when swapping is an option. We develop new principles and insights on how demand characteristics affect the optimal booking limits under the swapping possibility. We also develop an easy to implement heuristic for determining the booking limits under the swapping option and show, through a numerical study, that the heuristic generates revenues close to those under the optimal booking limits. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Naval Research Logistics, 2011