In some ways, airline customer experience has improved remarkably over the last twenty years. In-seat entertainment, easier reservations and faster ticketing are a few examples. But in other, more significant ways, there has been either atrophy or decline.
Seating room, for example, has been steadily shrinking in both pitch and width to the point that anyone over 6′ tall is in agony. They actively discouraged checked luggage – and now carry-on. But perhaps the most disturbing practice that all airlines share, is that of overbooking. Airlines will overbook flights, betting on at least a few passengers not showing up. This way, they can maximize the number of butts-in-seats. Can you imagine any other industry getting away with this practice?
“I’m sorry, sir, we’ve bumped your wedding until next week”
Imagine sitting down at a restaurant, paying for the meal, then just getting as you’re getting ready to eat it, a server whisks it away to give to another customer. No worries, though, they will rebook the meal for tomorrow. Imagine showing up at the reception hall on your wedding day, only to find that they had double booked and had decided to give it to another wedding party. It’s okay, we’ll get to you next weekend.
The airlines will tell you that it helps keep seat prices down. What they won’t tell you, however, is that a good portion of people who miss their flights have non-refundable tickets. They don’t get their money back, so the airlines get to double-dip.
The point that airlines are missing – and it’s a big point – is that customer experience and profitability aren’t mutually exclusive. If they take the time to examine their overall profit model – and perhaps throw in an innovation or two – they will find that sacrificing experience almost always results in sacrificing long-term profitability.
One has to wonder if shareholders will ever allow an airline CEO to focus on customer experience at the risk of losing a few quarters’ profits.