People Express

In 1981, People Express Airlines was launched and a business legend took off. By 1986 it was the fifth largest airline in the US with a $1 billion annual revenue. Its innovative management style and structure were praised as the wave of the future and companies worldwide rushed to imitate. Yet by 1986 it was nearly bankrupt, at the last minute was acquired by Texas Air.


The People Express Management Flight Simulator gives teams the opportunity to find out by “flying” the company themselves. They will take command of the firm and pilot it from start-up to success – or failure. In each simulated time period they make strategic and operational decisions, and receive feedback from past decisions.

Teams decide how fast to grow, how to set prices, how aggressively to advertise. Hiring policies influence morale, productivity and turnover; marketing efforts will shape the growth of demand; but competitors will fight back. The business may go bankrupt or grow to dominate the industry.

This simulator offers insights into the issues raised by the case history of this remarkable business, illustrating the difficulties of coordinating operations and strategy in a growth market and understanding the dynamic interconnections within a firm, its market and its competitors. The flight simulator is a laboratory in which teams can systematically explore the consequences of different strategies without risking the fortunes of the real enterprise.


  • Business systems, like other complex social systems, show complex behaviour over time
  • This complexity is caused by the feedback that occurs in all real-world cases, whether reinforcing growth (e.g. from word-of-mouth amongst passengers), imposing limits to growth (e.g. failure to provide sufficient aircraft) of triggering rapid collapse (e.g. pressure on staff driving resignations, which further raises pressure on those who remain)
  • Good managerial policy depends on detecting – and responding appropriately to – well-chosen performance indicators.
  • Management performance in this aim is typically undermined by misperceptions of how the systems they are trying to control are likely to behave, due to the feedback caused by this complexity.
If you’re interested in using People Express, email the Learning Lab team.