Airline Leaders Are Out Of Touch

August 2008

 
Those of us who are regular air travelers are just thrilled at all the new fees the big airlines are allowing us to pay these days. If you have traveled recently on the legacy airlines you know that the management has worked overtime to find new ways to nickel and dime passengers. Checking a bag? Get your wallet ready - $15, $25, and if it it’s over 50 pounds you may need to give them your first born. Hungry? Open your wallet but don’t expect the food to taste as good as the pictures look. You want your sandwich warmed? Forget it. Want something to drink? I recently paid $2 for a glass of water. What will be the next new fee?  Let your imagination work overtime on this one.

The traditional goal of the airlines is to provide professional, efficient and safe transportation from one location to another. Fee collection makes the process less efficient and less professional. Ticket counter personnel now have to collect luggage fees which pit the new process against an already tense customer. For the airlines this either costs more labor or forces us to wait longer at the counter. Flight attendants now have the additional and stressful task of collecting cash or credit most times a drink, snack or meal is served. These extra friction points are tough on airline employees as well as passengers.

If we were to apply airline style fee collection to the supermarket we would have checkout counters in every department.  Pay when you pick up the vegetables, pay when you select the meat, when you get your milk – you have the idea. So why are so many airlines moving to greater inefficiency? It makes no business   sense.

Petroleum prices have gone through the roof and we all know that air travel is certainly going to cost more. When something costs more, charge more. Creating all these additional stress points and inefficiencies in air travel only exacerbates the whole air travel experience.

The one major exception to all this stupidity is “common sense” Southwest Airlines which consistently provides free soft drinks and peanuts for everyone. No new fees, no additional labor costs and no added stress for either employees or passengers. It is so simple: raise the ticket price so all the stress and all the collection occur at the purchase point which is usually separated from the travel day. It should also be noted that Southwest is by far the most (and often only) major profitable US airline.

One has to question the decisions made by airlines that put employees and passengers into additional confrontation points in a business already known for less than stellar customer relations. We often hear about the older airlines being in financial difficulty which leads to basic questions of leadership.  If Southwest can do well in bad times as well as good times why can’t the others. You have to wonder if the senior airline executives have ever worked the ticket counter, ever traveled as regular coach passenger and even whether they ever have talked to customers.


Joe Scarlett is the retired chairman of Tractor Supply Company and the founder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute. He can be reached at 
joe@scarlettleadership.com

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