Each day it seems there’s a new headline about the latest “amenity” for which an airline plans on charging us, which, of course, causes a ripple effect as every other airline chooses to follow suit with a justification that comes across as, “Well, now that Airline X doesn’t have to give you free water, neither do we.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this sound like the opposite of the effects competition is supposed to create?
Like us, many of you are frequent fliers and are concerned about these trends. So when Jeff Eisenberg pointed out a site that highlights the fees associated with this growing phenomenon of sacrificing service to maintain pricing, I thought I’d share it with you.
For me, this illustrates a couple of things.
1.) We have surpassed the number of elements it takes to trigger over-choice behavior (aka “analysis paralysis”). Before, it was just price, departure/arrival times, and brand that influenced our flight-booking decision. Now, with so many other factors involved — multiple bags, bag surcharges, seating, drinking, and the (in my eyes) completely unforgivable “minimum stays” United just announced — has caused consumers to be put in the position of having to make a very complex decisions, which typically causes people not to choose*. The way I see it, the airline industry is headed right back to the time of the travel agent, paying someone to make sense of the mess.
Unless the travel sites can quickly adapt and easily incorporate these new elements to their functionality.
2.) The airline industry is devoid of real positive differentiation and unwilling to compete beyond price. As Jeffery pointed out in our conversation, airlines will become completely dependent on their ability to market being the “least awful.” One Philadelphia newspapers even launched a spoof of this concept last week with ads for a fake airline called Derrie-Air, which supposedly charges passengers by the pound. (Hat tip to the Influential Marketing Blog for spotting this.)
Normally I would say, “Market-capitalism to the rescue!” and insist that open competition will allow the fittest to prosper. But amid government subsidies and an apparent lack of interest by carriers to compete on something other than price, I’m skeptical this will right itself. So this is my open call to airline owners (yes, even Virgin Airlines) to reposition their fleets by differentiating themselves by meeting or exceeding customers’ wants, not just the bare minimum expectations we’ve grown accustom to by the current state of the airline industry at large.
My question to you, dear reader, is this: What ideas would you bring to bear on this problem? How would you change the company, product, or marketing to better meet the consumer’s needs, as well as the health of the industry?
*From Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice” presentation at TED.
About the Author: Brian Bond is VP of Marketing and Product at FutureNow, Inc.