Who Will Be The First No-Krap Airline Company?
A disease that few if any industries and companies have be able to avoid over many decades of existence, is the disconnect of that industry or company from the very purpose for that industry or company to exist.
The airline industry and essentially every company in it, suffers from this disease, and has been so, long before the bizarre and terrible incident of Dr. Doa on United Airlines flight 3411 this past April 9, 2017.
Reliable, Safe, Speedy and Personal Transportation
Within years of the Wright Brothers making the first sustained heavier-than-air-flight (i.e. airplanes), businesses emerged to provide customers reliable, safe, time-saving, caring and cost-effective transportation made possible by the airplane.
Customers looked to airlines to transport them meaningly faster than the alternatives. As obvious as it might sound, customer comfort was important essentially from the start — the first passenger plane built included wicker chairs, a lounge and toilet. As quick as cross country passenger flights became feasible, flight attendants were added to care for the passengers — indeed, the focus on passenger care was so significant that all flight attendants were registered nurses. Similarly, as quick as airplane technology would allow, customer comfort went from sharing space with airmail, to home-like spaciousness — all while the average cost went down.
The airlines companies have lost sight of this and more. They have become disconnected from the customers that they serve and why they serve them.
Case in point is an April 1 incident of a United bumping a full-fare passenger to make room for a “more important” passenger.
“More important” to whom?
It certainly wasn’t to the — bumped — passenger who sought so much to get back to his family that he paid for a premium ticket to do so.
That is, this “more important” was for United, not for its customers. United has become so disconnected from its raison d’etre, that it uses its customers, rather care for them.
To be clear and make matters worse, this isn’t just limited to United. The entire airline industry has devolved into a state where they have all lost connection with the reason that their business exists, including relegating their choiceless customers to pawns serving their corporate beast. As an OpEd piece in the New York Times by Helaine Olen noted on April 11, 2017: “it seems that the customer is the last important part of the transaction”, and “treating the majority of fliers with greater and greater contempt [to coddle an increasing small group of top-dollar fliers]”.
Indeed, witness the insult and lunacy of airlines systematically devaluing the frequent flier miles of their customers. Again, the only “person” benefitting from this practice is the airline company itself. Only the airline company determines whether or not this perk goes down or up in value — so why are they screwing their customers every year? Indeed, imagine the respect — and increased business — an airline company would gain, if it were to actually make its perks increase in value over time.
Each airline has systematically made its customer’s flying experience more miserable. From 1985 to today, United has shrink the pitch of its customer’s seats from an already tight 32–36” to 30–31”, and the width from 19.5–20 inches to 17–18.3 inches. The title of a September 24, 2014 USA Today article about this says it all: “Think airline seats have gotten smaller? They have”.
The airline companies have been disconnected from their customers for decades.
Indeed, for decades, the airlines have remained indifferent to their customer’s fundamental well being even after report after report has come out come reaffirming the unsanitary water and air on airplanes — flight crews refuse to drink the very water that they serve to their “customers”.
And the airline company’s flight attendants have gone from customer-care providers to airline-enforcement agents.
Even the once celebrated Southwest Airlines has regressed into a tired process-centric operation. Where Southwest flight attendants used to make the mandatory reading of FAA safety instructions a fun and humane experience that was effective, they too now incomprehensibly speed-read through these instructions indifferent to their audience and self-degradation just like all of the other dehumanized airline companies.
Meanwhile, the time of air travel has worsened. Between the security, check-in process, and unreliable exits, the total time to travel from SFO to LAX has increased from three hours to almost five or more hours — almost as much time as it would take to drive.
That is, unlike most every other industry in the World — where products and services get better with time — the airline industry’s product — the total transportation time and reliability — has actually worsened.
Indeed, instead of being concerned about undermining the very time-saving benefit underlying the reason customers use them, airline companies obliviously admonish their customers to arrive hours before the actual flight.
Moreover, much of their degrading of their business’ fundamental value — namely, time-efficient transportation — is caused by its other customer-disconnected behavior such as those mentioned above.
Case in point is that the above notorious shrinking of customer seating space escalates the importance and process of upgrading to a better seat. Consequently, airlines like United have turned their boarding process into a intensive last-minute scramble, both pitting passengers against each other, and adding time and stress to a boarding process that can and should be dirt simple.
Similarly, the notorious security lines have added hours to the flying “product”, yet instead of taking the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to task or otherwise escalating the issue out of concern for their customer, the airlines merely admonish us to waste even more of our time for the privilege of paying them our money for their degrading service.
Yet there is still more. In their disconnect from the customers that they exist to serve, not only have airline companies allowed their fundamental service or value to degrade, but failing to provide their service at all is — bizarrely — a standard part of their business.
That is, destroying the vacation, business deal, or just plain life comfort of their customers is a planned part of their operation. To be clear, much of this is not because of Acts of God, Mother Nature, or the like — these are planned failures. Airline companies run their scheduling and operations to deny hundreds of thousands of people per year, the timely and reliable travel that was the reason the customer signed-up to begin with.
This indifference to their customer is reminiscent of when the automobile industry stoically made decisions on car design or recalls, based upon a calculation as to how many customers they would harm or kill, rather that believing that no customer should be harmed at all.
The sophisticated yield management systems that the airline companies use to plan operations for their 475,000 failures per year (including more than 40,000 involuntary ejections even are offering incentives), can just as easily tell an airline company how to efficiently run their operations with no (weather-unrelated) failures.
The airline industries disregard for the customers that they serve, necessitated Federal government intervention to protect passengers from the airlines. On April 20, 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued what is popularly known as the “Passengers Bill of Rights”. It sets minimum standards for airline treatment of passengers — tellingly, while their is no restrictions on airlines to provide more, the airlines comply with only these minimum standards.
Probably never before in the history of mankind has a collective industry achieved more than the airline industry in protecting its customers against the risks of the World, than the United States commercial air passenger industry.
In the almost 16 years since September 11, 2001, (other than natural causes) not a single person has lost their life that was flying on an American passenger jet. Indeed, over the past 16 years, you would have been more safe — vastly more safe — on an American passenger jet than on any street in America.
Speaking as a pilot myself, I stand in amazement and appreciation. This safety is not easy — it requires tremendous skill, training, unrelenting attention and a culture to support it. So especially as the airline industry and companies are and should be taken to task on the rest of their business operations, it is important to recognize, appreciate, and further encourage the safety upon which the employees, flight crews, operations, and management of these companies have achieved and are providing.
They Just Don’t Know that they don’t know (that they’ve lost it).
In the aftermath of the April 9th incident, United Airlines unabashedly described their actions as a “reaccommodation” — a term that only makes sense and comes from a Corporate culture disconnected from its customers if not the real world. The public repulsion to this term was fast and furious — as one article parodied via its prescriptive title: “Reinventing language to ‘reacommodate’ corporate priorities”
The above infamous moment might be excused for being a flash reaction in the immediate aftermath.
Unfortunately, time has shown the things haven’t changed, and not just with United.
Many days later, Delta proudly announced their new policy that increased the amount that they would pay to $9,950.
That is, the airline industry’s reaction to date, is to not change the operations or culture to serve their customer, but simply pay (more) money when they screw them.
The airline’s industry continues to be disconnected from the needs of its customers — their vacations, business deals, wedding, or life comfort. And worse, Delta made it clear not only the price it will pay when it destroys the vacation that you entrusted them to implement, but that they get to decide how much it should worth — once again, the customer is but a slave to the airline. What happened to providing customers reliable, safe, time-saving, caring and cost-effective transportation?
Who Will Be The First No-Krap Airline?
Nature abhors a vacuum. In business, free markets fill vacuums.
A large market where customers are treated krapily, is a ginormous vacuum — that is, a business opportunity. Witness for example, consumer’s overnight rush to Uber and Lyft in the face of the unreliable and customer-indifferent service of the Taxi industry.
So it will only be a matter of time. Some airline will start offering their customers, well, customer service. Imagine the ads: Reliable transportation. Zoo-free check-in. Clean air to breath. Spacious comfort. Frequent flier miles that are actually worthwhile. “Our job is to get you where you need to go, when you need to arrive, and on your terms — no games, no hassles. You are our priority”. I can imagine this airline’s terminal areas saturated with video screens featuring real-time information about their performance, customer compliments of the flight crew and other passengers, and anything else that comes from thinking about the customer.
Especially if it’s a Silicon Valley startup that Tesla-izes the air travel industry, the customer-centered experience could wind-up bringing out the fun and support of passengers rather than the antagonism that over the past few years, that has flared up into passenger rage against the airlines and each other.
The airline industry is in the sad and unstable customer-hostile state that it is in presently, because it’s an Oligopoly — an industry state where each player merely has to match its competitors to stay alive. Their prices are the same and their service is the same. Everyone is well entrenched in the status quo.
So the first company to change the rules will have the airline industry as their oyster.
Yes, longer seat pitches, more reliable service, and heaven forbid, actually caring about your customer, will initially generate less revenue and cost more. But, for example, the vaulted business travelers will flock to a service that gets them where they need to go without being insulted or drained from the circus that airlines operate essentially with every flight. And people going on vacations or weddings or whatever time-significant activity it may be, will similarly flock to a service whose mindset is to get them there, rather than set-them-up for prospective failure.
In short, much as is happened to taxi companies or to Detroit right now (e.g. Tesla is now worth more than G.M. or Ford), the rest of the airlines mired in their customer-krappy culture will at best, be left with trying to convince customers that they somehow magically are offering better customer-oriented service than the first-mover that innovated to (krap-free) customer-serving airline. Good luck