Without Reservations

By Beacon Staff

Airlines teach so many lessons about business that I could write about them for weeks.

What kind of lessons? How not to treat people. How not to empower our staff. How not to give people an experience that’s so amazing they can’t wait to come back.

Despite being frustrating to deal with air travel hassles personally, there’s a lot of value in taking their lessons home to our own businesses.


Ever notice that most public-facing airline employees are just about powerless to make a change that makes perfect sense?

A friend recently shared a story about his daughter’s flight home from college for spring break.

She had an economy class reservation to fly home on Saturday. The ticket was under $300 round-trip, which meant lots of penalties for switching the flight.

Her classes let out early, giving her the chance to fly home on Thursday.

Her dad checks the airline website and finds that the flights are booked solid for the spring break weekend yet all the flights on Thursday have dozens of open seats.

Dad calls the airline and suggests moving her to an empty seat on Thursday and selling her old, now-expensive seat on Saturday (which is overbooked).

He doesn’t want a discount or a refund. He wants two more days with his daughter. For anyone with a little bit of common sense, it’s clearly a win-win for him and the airline.

He figures it would be gravy money for the airline: they fill a cheap, empty seat and free up a now-expensive, oversold weekend seat that was previously sold for a low price.

Not even an airline supervisor can make it happen.

Meanwhile, the airline’s salable asset – the empty Thursday airplane seat – loses value every hour that she waits.

Like milk, airplane seats spoil. Once the bulkhead door closes, they’re worthless.

Airlines 101: Ignore the customer

We have a customer who is taking a fragile, expendable, time-bound asset (an empty airplane seat on Thursday) and offering to make it more valuable by trading it for a clearly more valuable seat on a busy prime travel day.

I’ll bet you’d have to look hard to find someone at an airline who fails to understand the value proposition being offered by the Dad. Yet not one could take action.

The kicker? His daughter was paid $400 to take a later flight because her original flight was seriously oversold. She also got meals, a hotel room and airline funny money, plus the flight. She also got to see her family less than she planned.

The cash alone was more than the price of her original ticket.

All that instead of giving away an earlier, cheaper seat that was already empty – without feeling any pressure to refund the difference in the ticket price.

What do you sell?

Every now and then I ask you if you really, truly know what you sell.

Airlines sell fragile, time-bound expendable assets, but they don’t act like it.

They act, empower their staff and create systems that send the message that they sell something entirely different: Reservations, or something like them.

The telltale sign? They treat the reservation as if it has more value than the customer.

Once we pass through security and get past the ticket agent at the gate, most of us are treated more or less like cattle at a feedlot. At that point, the reservation is worthless, thus the customer holding it has now become a liability, an expense, and/or a burden.

In situations where a plane has a problem, we don’t hustle the (valuable) customer back to the terminal where they could consume an expiring asset we haven’t yet sold (seats on other planes), instead we devalue them by imprisoning them on the tarmac for hours.

An empowered crew would return their customers to the gate where they could continue their travel and consume unused and about-to-devalue assets (seats on other about-to-depart planes).

But that isn’t what happens, more than likely because that captain would never again work for that airline.

Have you truly empowered your staff? Can they take action to maximize your customers’ experience and the value of the assets you sell?

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him via email at mriffey at flatheadbeacon.com.