One step forward, two steps back – why IT can’t act like domestic airlines

Just when I was starting to feel that some airlines are trying to do a bit more than give lip service to their old propaganda (“we know you have a choice in air travel”), things seem to be going in the wrong direction…

It is no secret that commercial air travel (especially discretionary travel) has been heavily impacted by the economic down turn.  To try to restore some customer loyalty, I’ve seen some signs of forward thinking from some carriers:

– Dropping the incremental charges for checked-in bags.  This was a bad move to begin with as it resulted in passengers bringing all kinds of inappropriate carry-on luggage and making flight attendants lives that much harder.

– Dropping charges for water or non-alcoholic beverages on domestic flights.  While not all carriers have done this, the fact that you can’t take water bottles through security checkpoints means you either pay an exorbitant rate at post-security shops OR you pay an exorbitant rate on board.  Either way, you are being held hostage as even the shortest flight these days will necessitate at least a couple of hours between security checkpoints (from origin to destination).

– Dropping charges for using the services of a booking agent.  Why employ a booking agent if you automatically have to pay to use their services?

One of our main North American carriers tried to progress further this summer (cynics would say it was merely catching up with its competitors).  Barring the use of exclusive, highest tier upgrade certificates, the only normal way for frequent fliers to upgrade to business class would be if you purchased a full-fare economy ticket.  Few companies can afford to have their staff book full-fare tickets, so this often resulted in frequent fliers collecting a number of unused, useless upgrade certificates that would be discarded at the end of each qualification year.  At the same time, the business-class section on most domestic legs was less than fully loaded.

I’d always felt that it would generate a lot of good will if airlines would automatically fill the unused seats in their business class section with their frequent fliers (they could prioritize this based on the status-level or usage patterns of the fliers – no one can legitimately complain if the selection criteria are consistent and published) – sure, they might not be able to provide meals to everyone, but at least the road warriors could benefit from a bit more leg room as well as the occasional cocktail.

For this summer only, this carrier announced that regular upgrade certificates could be used on non-full fare economy flights.  While not as forward thinking as my previous suggestion, this was absolutely a step in the right direction, and (for a brief time), partially restored my faith in the industry.

This morning, I tried to do a same-day flight change and was amazed to see that the fee for doing this change had been raised from $50 U.S. to $75 U.S.  (+taxes).  While I can understand that airlines may feel the need to have “some” charge to offset administrative costs, I fail to see how they can justify increasing the amount (especially in light of the fact that the flight I was changing to was at less than 75% capacity and the flight I was changing from was at 100% capacity.  If anything, I was doing them a favour by reducing load on a flight that (may have been) was oversold).  I did the change online, so it is not like I was taking up any incremental time for a gate or booking agent.  Just a couple of years back, a same day standby was a no-charge service for most airlines.

This is the type of “nickel-and-dime” thinking that has got the “flagship” North American airlines into trouble and is the reason why some of their smaller competitors are so successful.

What does this have to do with IT/IS departments?

At a time when discretionary (and in some cases non-discretionary) budgets are being cut and the threat of cost-driven outsourcing is always there, we need to ensure that we are not punishing our internal customers and turning advocates into critics.  As with the airlines, always remember that “we know you have a choice in IT providers”.

Categories: IT Governance, Process Peeves | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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