Re-run date: 6/15/2015
One of my daughters got married this weekend, so neither my thoughts nor my schedule had anything to do with writing a new column. Instead, here’s a re-run about yet another example of market failure. Unsurprisingly, the air travel industry is involved.
I enjoyed re-reading it. Maybe you will too. – Bob
* * *
What makes me mad isn’t that the airlines want to shrink our carry-on luggage. It’s that they think we’re complete idiots.
In case you haven’t run across this little firestorm, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced a new standard. Conforming luggage will be about 20% smaller than what you’re used to carrying on. The IATA’s spokespeople say, “… it will lead to an improved passenger experience.”
Not content to insult our intelligence with that little gem, the IATA went on to say, “The Cabin OK initiative does not require passengers to buy new baggage. Cabin OK is not a revenue generating scheme for the airlines.”
Okay, let’s get this straight. It won’t require us to buy new luggage, because … we can shrink the luggage we own with a hacksaw and duct tape to make it fit?
And if passengers can’t pack as much into their carry-on luggage, none will have to check larger bags … for a fee … to bring enough clothing and shoes for trips our old carry-on luggage was big enough to handle?
I’m surprised they aren’t calling it “best practice.”
Passenger demand for overhead space has increased. The airline industry’s response is to reduce the supply. If you were running a business, would you reduce the amount of something your customers were demanding more of?
This is a clear case of market failure. Among the causes of market failure, in addition to monopolies, tragedies of the commons, and the dollar auction, we can add the failure to think like customers, I guess, or maybe simple denial of the obvious — characteristics with which the airlines long-ago proved they are amply supplied.
For example: With approximately one exception, air carriers argue they have to change ticket prices every 37 milliseconds because the laws of economics compel them to do so.
That this is insane was pointed out quite a long time ago by C Alan H. Hess in his brilliant “If Airlines Sold Paint” (if you haven’t read this, stop now and click the link — you’re in for a treat). That it’s completely wrong is evidenced by which carrier is the most profitable in the industry — Southwest, which doesn’t do this.
And now, not content with pricing that’s merely insane, some carriers now offer multiple pricing tiers, based on position in the plane and whether they provide enough legroom to avoid the need for amputation.
To be fair, position in the plane and amount of legroom are attributes fliers value. But there’s an attribute we all value more: Not being crammed into the furschlugginer center seat.
Do you know of any carriers offering a center seat discount? Me neither. And if any carrier did figure this out, you can bet they’d offer aisle-and-window-seat premium pricing instead … exact same thing, only most business travelers would not be allowed to book a seat labeled “premium.”
Talk to any experienced traveler about their preference for not checking luggage and you’ll find price has little to do with the choice. Most of us are frequent fliers on at least one airline, but still carry our luggage on board, even when the first bag is free.
Why? We both know the answer. We carry our luggage on board to make sure it (1) arrives at our destination; (2) undamaged; and (3) with its contents undamaged, too.
Which leads to the KJR solution: Charge ten bucks per checked bag — enough to make money; not enough for business travelers to care — and do what Domino’s Pizza does: Guarantee fast delivery, with the goods in good condition, or your next flight is free.
If I was confident my bag would be waiting for me in baggage claim when I got there, in the same condition it was when I handed it over, I might even start checking my computer bag, too.
What does this have to do with running IT? Not much. The IATA just ticked me right off and KJR was waiting here for me to write about it.
But there is this, which you can take to the bank: If IT wants its users to behave in a certain way, the starting point isn’t to set and enforce standards.
It’s to look at the world through their eyes, not IT’s, setting standards and writing policies that are more attractive than the alternatives.
Most of the time, in most situations, enforcement is the lazy alternative to empathy.