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Ok, this is a little off-topic for a management post, but it’s Friday, so hear me out. I just got a call from my husband, Brian, who is sitting at JFK airport watching Port Authority of New York police practically drag a customer off a Delta Airlines flight to Seattle. The flight, which was supposed to leave at 8:45 this morning (my husband had to leave Connecticut at 5 AM to make it), was delayed inexplicably by three hours and is oversold. Brian was one of the bumped passengers. He “bought” his ticket using his hard-earned SkyMiles, and in logic only an airline executive could defend, his loyalty was rewarded with a decrease in his status on the who-to-bump pecking order. In addition, two passengers on his flight were given the same exact seat and allowed to board the plane. Neither one would budge an inch, and police had to be called in to resolve the situation.
Since Delta emerged from bankruptcy, it has proudly been trumpeting itself as “The New Delta.” It has a new logo and a new advertising campaign titled “Change,” which was announced in a press release that quoted Delta Vice President Tim Mapes. “Delta is changing the travel experience for our worldwide customers,” Mapes said, “with tangible benefits including industry-leading in-flight entertainment, signature cocktails and time-saving self-service technology.”
Oh, goody. If Brian ever gets on a flight, he’ll get his pick of fruity cocktails or bad movies he can view on a seatback that’s six inches from the end of his nose. But in my book, “changing” the customer experience involves things that really matter to customers, like not being punished for your loyalty or actually giving customers what they pay for: A seat.
At the risk of this sounding like a personal tirade (I’m afraid it already does), customer experience is a topic I cover at BusinessWeek, which includes shepherding our new annual Customer Service Champions awards. While we made the extraordinarily difficult decision to remove JetBlue Airways from our list this year given its complete operational meltdown in February, there are so many things JetBlue does right for its customers—not least of which is its policy against overbooking.
I know there is some kind of complex load-factor explanation for why airlines oversell their flights (I cover management, not airlines). But something tells me innovative thinkers could make up the revenue in other ways. Given the industry’s near lock-step adherence to the practice, I’d happily pay a nominal extra fee to guarantee I wouldn’t be bumped. Or, I’d understand if the airline hit me with an even bigger charge for missing a flight—it’s my responsibility to get there on time. At the very least, tell me if I’m booking a flight that’s already oversold, and that I’m running a risk by purchasing that ticket. Sheer knowledge goes a long way in earning a customer’s trust.
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