Blind Spots And The Law Of Unintended Consequences
I have had the unfortunate pleasure of flying a lot for both work and holidays recently. And as I had plenty of time standing in endless snaking lines to ponder this miserable state of affairs, I found myself wondering just what on earth were the airlines thinking?
Thanks to the events of December 25 on that fateful flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, the lines are even longer. Yet the airlines continue to insist on charging passengers for checked bags. I realize they think there is a cash reward to be derived from this extremely foolhardy new trend - but I am not so sure.
When an airline charges for checked bags, what happens? People don’t check their bags (Duh!), which means they are carrying them on. The impact of this carry-on luggage hits the security lines first. Heightened security and everybody attempting to drag multiple suitcases - each the size of a New York City apartment - slows the line to a glacial crawl. Three bags, shoes, coat and computer - each passenger uses at least five to six bins. Invariably, the security guy spies something dodgy in at least one. The airlines don’t care about long security lines. Passengers blame the TSA, not them. Long lines have little effect on revenue or airline customer satisfaction.
The next step is boarding, something airlines should care about. The faster planes are boarded, the faster planes reach their ultimate destination, which means the faster planes can collect a new cargo of passengers and fly to the next place. In short, the airlines could get a few more flights out per plane per day. Now we’re talking revenue, much more revenue than what can be made charging for checked luggage.
When everyone and their brother are carrying on a U-Haul’s worth of stuff, boarding and debarking get slowed way down. This makes passengers angry. Customer satisfaction goes way down.
Yet, the airlines have a total blind spot about checked bags. They are losing serious air travel dollars while chasing dimes with checked luggage and at the same time, they are really making their customers mad. Airlines should make carry-on restrictions very tight indeed, requiring people to check all their bags. They would increase flights per plane per day, getting a nice revenue bump.
All industries have blind spots and don’t see the unintended consequences of their actions. (Example: Why do consultancies insist on sending teams to client sites for five days a week? Simply because it’s better for the consultancies’ revenue stream - even though this is extremely disruptive and counterproductive for the client.)
The auto industry complained for years about unfair foreign competition (dumping). They begged for and got a number of protectionist measures, but these protectionist measures brought about a totally unintended consequence: When barred with import quotas, foreign manufacturers said, “Heck, we’ll just go manufacture there.” They are here and here to stay and unlike Detroit, they are doing very well.
Our industry also has plenty of blind spots. And many of our actions could have unintended consequences. Something to think about.