Systems, Blame and Focus

By Mark Riffey

Recently there was a bit of a fuss about United kicking people off an overweight plane based on the fare they paid.

Since then, there were a number of discussions/suggestions on how to choose which passengers to remove in order to get the plane to flyable weight:

  • By passenger weight
  • By ticket purchase date
  • By price paid for the ticket
  • By frequent flier status and level
  • By check-in time
  • Or opting to remove some cargo or baggage rather than passengers

You could sell any of these, but you’d be looking in the wrong direction.

Check the compass
The problem is, these strategies are focused on the wrong thing: The airline and its weight problem.

The right focus: Each customer bought a ticket with the audacious expectation that they would be transported somewhere at a specific (more or less) time..and they didn’t buy a ticket with Vegas odds printed on it.

I realize it might seem quaint to expect that a customer-purchased ticket actually *means* something, so consider this:

Imagine if you showed up at the Super Bowl (or worse, the Griz/Cat game) and found your seat taken. After a fruitless argument with the person in your seat, you find an usher and ask them to get this person moved only to have them tell you that your seat was sold to three other people and the guy sitting in it was the first of you to arrive. You must leave the stadium. But don’t worry, we’ll let you watch the game later on TV, and for the same price.

Only in the airline business does this seem a normal, much less acceptable, way to treat customers.

Yes, there are regulations allowing them to overbook, but they aren’t *forced* to do so. They’ve make a conscious choice to treat their customers as if they were replaceable.

They’ve also made a conscious choice to design/run their systems such that at game time, they’ll have to make decisions that negatively affect their customers rather than using those systems to prevent impacting customers.

Far too often, the burden of these game time airline decisions fall on the customer who is not only blameless but unable to take any steps to prevent the problem, with the exception of avoiding travel altogether.

When sales and operations systems are tightly integrated, you’ll know in advance that the cargo booking Joe just sold will result in an overweight flight based on bookings already sold and current passenger and baggage weight trends.

You’ll know the delivery constraints of cargo bookings and whether or not a particular piece/load of cargo is heavier than usual and whether or not its delivery can be delayed without impacting the cargo customer, and you’ll know that before having to load it and without having to bump passengers.

When the choice is made not to create (or effectively use) systems like this, less-intelligent decisions get made and customers get treated like cattle.

Imagine an airline stating “We will never overbook our clientele” and then delivering on that promise.

The right choice for you – and the airlines – is to implement automated systems that prevent these problems. Would you rather be the airline that overbooks or the one that doesn’t?  Which would you fly?

Think about how your business systems and processes have gaps that cause problems that your customers are forced to deal with. What system changes can you make to prevent these things from happening?

What intelligence can you build into your daily processes so that these things not only never happen again, but also make those processes both more efficient and friendlier to your bottom line and your customers?

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.