The social flight

What if a plane flight were networked and became a social experience with its own economy?

For part of a book I’m finally starting to work on, I’ve been thinking about how companies and industries can be remade with Googlethink and social smarts (note how I’m not saying Web 2.0). It’s harder to reimagine some than others. The benefits of tearing apart and rebuilding cable companies are obvious. But I just about gave up on airlines, dooming them to their status as the new buses. What can one do with such a commodity service, and one that has deteriorated so badly?

Then I was inspired by Steve Baker at Business Week, who asked, “Why hasn’t aviation benefited more from Moore’s Law?” Maybe it’s not Moore’s law that can reform airlines but Jarvis’ First Law — give the people control and we will use it; don’t and you will lose us — and Zuckerberg’s commandment — give your people elegant organization — plus a bit of Googlethink about networks, platforms, and wise crowds. For Burda’s upcoming DLD event, one airline, Lufthansa, is asking what they should be in 15 years. Here’s one scenario of how they can change in far less time….

Start here: Most passengers on airlines today are connected to the internet on the ground and soon we will be in the air as airlines return to the idea of adding wireless internet to jets (see an AP roundup from yesterday here — I can’t wait). Getting us connected will be good for the airlines, not only because they have something new to sell — if they don’t try to gouge us — but also because we’ll be busy — engaged, entertained, connected — and less likely to grumble and revolt at delays. Busy passengers are happier passengers.

Once airplanes’ passengers are connected with the ground, that enables them to get connected with each other. It would be easy for the airlines — or, failing that, the passengers themselves — to set up social networks around flights and destinations. The possibilities are endless:

* At the simplest level, we could connect while in the air to set up shared cab rides once we land, saving passengers a fortune.

* We can ask our fellow passengers who live in or frequently visit a destination for their recommendations for restaurants, things to do, ways to get around.

* We can play games.

Note that this requires not only wifi internet access at a reasonable price but also electric plugs at every seat. The first airline to do this will gain the loyalty and appreciation of a huge number of wired road warriors.

Continental 747 lounge

* Now think back to the earliest 747s with their lounges where you could socialize with fellow passengers, something that still goes on even in the cramped quarters of today’s jets, though every inch is filled with a seat and though the cabin crew is less often the object of the flirting. The idea is coming back on Virgin and in the 787 Dreamliner and A380. So now imagine if on this onboard social network, you could find people you want to meet — people in the same business going to the same conference, people of similar interests, future husbands and wives — and you can rendezvous in the lounge.

* This is the key to decommodifying the airline: What if you chose to fly on one airline vs. another because you knew and liked the people better? What if the airline’s brand became its passengers? What if the airline even found ways to encourage more interesting people to fly with them because they knew that would attract and retain passengers (they could offer discounts and benefits to people who are active and popular in the social network)? Right now, all you offer is seats and miles: commodities. How much richer this would be if you offered small societies. Yes, we could still get stuck next to a talkative bozo — but not if we could meet people and arrange our seats before the flight thanks to the social network. Next to the right person, I might even tolerate a middle seat.

So these social networks should be opened before the flight. And that enables not only these on-flight connections but also a new economy:

* The airline can set up an auction marketplace for at least some of the seats: What’s it worth for you to fly to Berlin next Wednesday? You could bid and buy a seat from a passenger who already holds one. This could solve some of the airlines’ overbooking problem and reduce the cost of bumping customers if late-booking passengers can buy seats from fellow passengers in an open marketplace. You can bet that once a social network around a flight exists, we’ll compare what we paid. So why not be open? Yes, speculators could arbitrage seats, but so long as they’re nonrefundable, what problem is that for the airline? They become market makers. Besides, this sets a new market value for seats that in some cases will be higher than the airlines’ existing fares.

* The airline could also use this to predict and maximize load. What if there’s a sudden surge in demand for a destination the airline can see because bids appear in an auction marketplace for a certain route around certain dates (because of a new conference or festival or good media coverage for a new getaway or bargain)? The airline can add capacity, which keeps the airlines in control over arbitrageurs; the airline is always in control of supply and now it would know more about demand. Similarly, what if a flight is light and the airline starts offering passengers alternatives at great discounts to enable the airline to cancel a flight and reroute the equipment long before departure? The airline increases efficiency and profitability; the passengers get a dividend; and the environment gets a break. These things can be done in an open and flexible marketplace.

* While you’re at it, why not turn frequent-flier miles into an open market? In miles, the airlines have created a virtual currency with far greater reach and value than those on Second Life or Facebook. But they’re essentially illiquid. The airlines make it impossible to get frequent-flier seats with them unless you’re flying to Krakow on Christmas Day a decade hence. And the other deals they offer us — use your miles to buy a TV — are bad deals. This, in turn, devalues the virtual currency to the point that it offers an ever-decreasing incentive to choose one airline over another; it no longer acts as the decommodifier the airlines intended. So open it up: Let us bid on frequent flier seats with our miles. Let us trade and barter our miles with each other — I’ll sell you this iPod for miles I want to use to get my vacation. This will again add value to the currency.

* The main reason we go for miles today is to get silver or greater status so we can jump lines and board first. But I’m not in control of how much I travel; my employers are. So what you really want is my loyalty; you want a large marketshare of me. So let me earn privileges in other ways. Open this up, too. Let me bid miles or money for these benefits: create a market value for boarding first.

* The airline should find ways to involve employees in the network. They can also offer tips. They are the airline’s representatives to the community. And the airline should want to learn more about its employees through the network. Those who make the flight more pleasant and more social are an asset and should be rewarded. Besides, it’s hard to get nasty with cabin crews when you feel as if you know them.

* The airlines can also learn a great deal about their service from the network of passengers. We’ll tell you about the food and what’s worth paying for. I’ll start a movement to save my knees from the bozos who slam their seats into them. You’ll see which employees are your best marketers.

There are many subtleties to this. For example, in some cases, I won’t want to reveal my true identity (telling people I’m out of town), for others I will (doing business). If seats are being traded, real identities and credit cards must be in the system for security. And so on. But this would be easy to pull off with existing social software (Ning, Drupal) and links to existing social networks (Facebook, Linkedin) and existing auction markets (a walled-in eBay). The beauty is that no marketing is required; you’re simply serving, connecting, and organizing the customers you already have. Yet this act alone rebrands you as the social airline. (Better get there quick, before Virgin does.)

So brainstorm with employees and passengers. Imagine what it takes to be the open, social airline — a platform for travel — and then imagine the good that comes of it. Your customers will give you value if you trust them and let them.

: LATER: Ross twitters: “the social airline already exists, try the last flight to Vegas on a Friday night.”

  • http://www.millergroup.net sonya

    While marketing wouldn’t be required, the opportunity would be hard for businesses to turn down. Networkers could meet as specific airport bars, get discounts at destination restaurants, etc. Also, having (or having the chance of) celebrities or other personalities of note on these flights might entice fans. Can’t you see some celeb saying “I fly *blank*” while hanging out with your average flyer. I can.

  • http://yochicago.com Joe Zekas

    Some very active social networking among airline passengers has already been going on for a number of years. See the different boards at FlyerTalk.com, for example, which fills a number of the niches you suggest. Visit any of the private airport lounges for more examples – or simply observe how sociable business people are in waiting lines.

    By the way, your judgment of the value of miles is way, way off base. On a number of airlines (I generally fly American) it’s trivially easy to get award tickets. The miles have inordinate value in claiming business and first class award seats and upgrades, especially for elite-tier passengers and their families. Fly your way to top-tier status on some airlines and flying becomes a decent enough experience that the last thing you’ll want to do is disrupt it with social networking trivia.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Joe,
    I’m invested in Continental. I’m very happy their miles don’t expire. But I’ve never been able to use them.

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  • http://www.barternews.com Bob Meyer

    The airlines have created a $300 billion currency–the frequent flyer miles. Fulfillment (use of the miles) is deplorable, with some pundits suggesting up to 80% of the miles are never used. Currencies become valuable when they are interchangable and useable. Enabling the holder of miles to trade them would create an enormously valuable marketplace which could be monitized by the carriers/airlines, adding to their bottomline and ultimately to their market cap (stock value).

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  • http://www.travelweekly.co.uk/blogs Nathan

    Some great stuff here. The closest thing to connecting in the air is currently Virgin America’s seat-to-seat messaging – but without networking tools or internet access it’s still a pretty long way from what you describe. In fact you could argue that offering connectivity as part of a closed IFE system is a big step in the *wrong* direction…

  • http://www.glowrich.com Melle Gloerich

    Hi Jeff,

    Great post, it addresses some of the most important things that are happening in this new business era. I don’t want to call it business2.0 but getting the (potential) consumer involved in the value of the product is quite new and certainly tapping into an unprecedented user-base: everyone.

  • Jack MacKenzie

    The picture of flying as it used to be is true. My father regularly flew from Delta (in its halcyon days) from Atlanta to New York. He was mid management for a back water rural Georgia textile mill, in a textile mill town, nobody special (except to me). My hand to God, on the day he was to depart Atlanta a Delta representative would call Dad’s office and ask him how he wanted his steak done on his flight. Rare. Medium Rare, Medium or Well Done. And it was always as he replied. This was SOP … otheriwise knwn as getting the consumer involvd in the Value of The Product. Delta was a gold plated byword in our home. Now they’re just Greyhound in the skies. (btw – if you want a real hooror experience, ride Greyhound or Trailways, say fro Los Angeles to Vegas. You’ll discover its really a prisoner transport system … incredible, scary and quite unbelieveable, like Blade Runner come to life)

  • http://intelligenttravel.typepad.com Marilyn Terrell

    You might like to know about AirTroductions, which started in 2006 and allows passengers to create profiles and search for other members who are traveling on the same flights. If you like each other you can request seats together:
    http://intelligenttravel.typepad.com/it/2007/01/introducing_air.html
    Two people who met via AirTroductions on their way to the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas ended up starting their own company together: http://www.airtroductions.com/Anonymous/Events.aspx

  • John

    Sure enough: pay 5 or 10 or 20 times as much (in real terms) for a flight 30-40 years ago, and you got better service on less-crowded flights. But such romantic nostalgia is usually only warranted for those who had others foot the bill at the time.

    Yes, a Rolls-Royce is better than a Scion, but it’s much more expensive, too.

  • MikeS

    Like all utopian dreams, the idea of friendly, spacious airline flights only half-filled, but with people just like us, this urge to “decommodify” the airline industry will run up against the rocks of market share and cost per available seat mile.

    The larger, mainline carriers all feel the squeeze from the low cost carriers, such as Southwest and JetBlue. They cannot increase their ticket costs, lest they lose market share. Face it, the economic driver in today’s travel industry isn’t the person who wants a little something extra with their travel, it is the great mass of travelers who think of the aircraft as a flying bus – just get me there at the cheapest price, with no frills.

    The era when airlines had few delays, always had open seats, and could experiment with new luxuries ended when Congress deregulated the industry. It’s not likely to return. Those open lounges with a half dozen happy travelers cut hugely into an airline’s profit margin, which is why they never last.

    The response to almost all of your suggestions above is certainly going to be, “Okay, how will that affect our cost? If the answer is negative, then your suggestions don’t have a snowballs chance in Hades. There might always be another airline willing to add some bells and whistles, but it will always be at higher cost, operating in a special niche market or used as an introductory ploy to gain market entry. Such operations are always cool while they last – but no points are awarded for being the coolest airline in bankruptcy.

    Consider some of your suggestions:

    Finding someone to share a cab. Yeah, if you can see who you’re connecting with beforehand. Otherwise, forget it.

    Wifi internet access at a reasonable price and electric plugs at every seat. Great, but who pays for the installation and maintenance of such things? Passengers who don’t want to play games or network with other geeks.

    Setting up markets for seating boarding and the rest. Great, but what’s the airline’s cut of the action? Who manages the market at what cost? What does it add to the airline’s liability? Airlines operate best when they stick to core competencies – emulating Ebay ain’t a core competency. For that matter, will it cost more passengers than it gains?

    Gaining information about travel surges. Airlines already have such information, often in great detail. They’ve been modeling travel patterns for decades and are tied in to large travel services. Besides, at the largest, most crowded locations, the airline’s capacity is often restricted by slot times and gate availability. They often couldn’t add additional aircraft, even if they had them sitting around somewhere – which they don’t, because an idle aircraft costs money. The only way most airlines can affect capacity is to cancel flights – which they do, regularly. Don’t like it? Again, the answer is find another airline who treats you better, if you can. There are thousands of travelers who are standing in line to take your place.

    It’s a nice dream, but one that must be paid for. You are invited to start your own company, selling expertise in providing such things at little cost. They’ll pay you for it – if you can make them money.

  • ech

    I had a job where I was on the road every other week all over the US, and flew on most of the major airlines. The job spanned the deregulation of the airlines and the differences were like night and day.

    The lounges like the one above didn’t survive long. First, there is the problem of tubulence. Hit a bump and the wine bottles shown on the bar go everywhere, just like the passengers. Back in the 70s and 80s there was much less data available to the crews to avoid turbulence. Second, once deregulation set in, those lounges were struck and replaced with seats needed to keep revenues up. If these do end up in new jets, they’ll be for first class only. My guess is that there will be a few lounges for a while, which will be featured prominently in ads but unavailable to most of us. They’ll then quietly be phased out except on a few long haul airlines (Emirates, Singapore).

    Before deregulation, it was not uncomon to be on a plane that was less than half full. In fact, it was so common that the center seats on most planes could be pulled down and used to put your drinks on – the tray table had indentations on the bottom side for that purpose. Now most flights are near full. Seat pitch was set for more leg room then. There were closets for overnight suit bags at the front of the plane. Since the planes were less crowded, there was time for the stewardi to pass out drinks and a snack, serve a hot meal, and more drinks.

    Of course, a flight to Chicago from Dallas was priced higher in 1980 ($350) than now ($200) – that’s a $950 fare in constant dollars. Deregulation came in and the result has been cheaper flights for all. Families can fly to see each other, business is cheaper, etc.

    Oh, and as for adding capacity if demand spikes for a particular flight – forget it. Airlines have to schedule their planes well in advance to maximize use. Unlike railroads which can afford to have surplus rolling stock sitting around, the airlines have to squeeze as many flights out of each plane as possible. Also, a larger plane might require a different set of flight crew – pilots specialize and unless you are type certified in a plane, you can’t fly it – so the 737 flight crew you have scheduled can’t fly the 787 you want to replace it with. In fact, you might not have a gate big enough for it on either end, and gate space is an expensive asset. (Sure, it sorta works on the Boston to NY shuttle, but that’s a special case.)

    What I do see is some subset of what you want being available for frequent flyers and business flyers. For example, Continental blocks out the seats at the front of the plane for full fair and elite status flyers until 24 hours for so before takeoff. They could wire those seats for laptops and not the others, and use this for marketing to business travellers.

    As for cab sharing – why not have a website set up by the airport to do that – leveraging all the flights inbound?

    If you want advice on where to eat, what to do at a destination there are lots of sources on the web. Plus, it’s a good way to connect with your business contacts at the destination to ask them – and that social network is likely more valuable in the long run than with random strangers on a plane.

  • steve poling

    Though you draw a compelling picture of a glorious future, I wonder how I’d go about filing an expense report for a more-expensive-but-classier airline, or more accurately, how my boss would respond. Thus the networking you’re talking about will have to have some real dollars-and-cents arguments to enable the business traveler to stare down the fellow in the green eyeshade.

  • ken Mitchell

    1. Moore’s Law _WILL_ affect the airline industry; because of telecommuting and online conferencing, I travel far less than I used to. Things I that I used to fly a day out and a day back to do, I can now do via Webex and Inter-Tel from the comfort of my office chair. Yes, it takes longer to do things online; the networks are S…L…O…W compared to being there in person. But I still gain overall by saving kilobucks and two days cooling my heels in a cramped coach airline seat. When internet bandwidth speeds up, I’ll save even MORE time. As video conferencing and VOIP gets better, business travelers will have even LESS motive to travel in person. And as the older generations (i.e., me) die off and the youngsters who grow up with technology replace us, the emotional need to press the flesh and look people in the eye in person will decline.

    2. Airlines don’t WANT to make a market in frequent-flyer miles; they want to have those miles expire unused. If those miles “disappear”, they save money; they don’t have to provide the service they promised. Same for reselling tickets; they’d rather sell the seat twice, betting that one of those people won’t show up. What’s their motivation for eliminating that “overbooking” revenue stream?

    3. In the “long run”, the only people who will actually travel via airline will be those who value the actual experience of “being there”. Vacationers and leisure travelers already are the predominant market; that’s not going to change.

  • Tennwriter

    People frequently want two opposed things. You order steak delivered to your house, ready-to-eat, and you want 1) Stylish service which you tip well for. 2) To yell at the ‘servant boy’, and neglect to tip him.

    Its a state of quantum indeterminacy.

    And its up to the service provider to convince the customer to choose Door Number One. Door Number One is better in general for everyone, but especially for the provider. Door Number Two says some rather nasty things about human nature, and how we enjoy beating up the helpless.

    There are a lot of workers out there who get paid less than their job is worth because they are going through Door Number Two, and their humiliation and underpayment is integral to that experience for the employer. You really don’t want to find yourself in this position as an industry.

    If the airline wants to be successful, they have to try to square the circle. They have to keep costs low, and at the same time Make It A Party (AKA Door Number One).

    And maybe in some distant future we can go back to notions of Politeness, Compassion, and the Dignity of Work, but for now we have to razzle-dazzle the customer.

    And no, I don’t know how to do that.

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  • http://wupazz2.blogspot.com/ RIP

    Love the picture where the people on the plane are drinking, socializing, walking around. HA, those were the days.

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  • SteveA

    How much will you bid for the seats next to the attractive blonde? If you bid enough, she could fly for free wherever she wants.

  • http://buhlerworks.typepad.com Joe B

    Great post with a lot of ideas, alas, as some of the very realistic comments show, it will most likely remain “pie in the sky” – pun intended….. Yes, the days of flying lounges were great for passengers but bad for the airlines, for reasons already stated and are unlikely to return for the masses. As for airlines catering to the high revenue market, it only works for a few and for limited markets, as the recent demise of MaxJet sadly shows. Guess we’ll be stuck in steerage for quite some time to come unless we pony up some serious dough, or better yet get our own plane!

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  • comatus

    What’s the bid if the blonde shares a cigarette?

    Not for myself so much, you know, it’s just that back when we smoked on board, the airplanes didn’t spontaneously catch fire nearly so often…

  • TAF

    As someone who flies coast to coast regularly, I would be happy if the airlines would simply acknowlege that people are larger than they were in the 1960′s, and make seats accordingly.

    United economy plus is very nice – I pay the extra whenever it is available. But a little extra shoulder room would be even better.

    As an aside, for those folks who think that “low cost” airlines like Southwest are the driver here, do a quick price comparison. SW etc. aren’t cheaper than the traditional airlines…I don’t understand where the notion that they are comes from.

  • Oriscus

    Do lets apply this to the Church, please.

    I must confess that I read the article’s contrast between “what customers want” (narrowcasting) and what they are offered (one-size-fits-all and live with it) as a message to the Church, and to the Episcopal Church.

    The practical economics be damned – Our Lord makes it clear that the lost are more precious than the already-corralled. Let’s assume for the moment that baptisms by the Baptists and the Assemblies-of-God and the like (I include Methodists and Presbys, PCA or literate) are valid and effecatious – whom does that leave out?

    What is *our mission field?

    What is *your Parish doing for the literate aesthetes?

    I do not ask this in jest. I am a literate aesthete. Most of the Church (and not, obviously, just TEC/ECUSA/PECUSA-pseudoanglican permutations), it seems, does not want me (revisionist or reversionist, it’s much the same).
    I am active in one Episcopal parish in the Diocese of Texas because we have a choral Compline service. (I sing in the choir for that service most every Sunday, but it is also the only service of Christian worship in the entire city of Austin in which I truly feel welcome, or ever have.) For the record, I am straight, male, ex-Churches-of-Christ, mid-forties (Episcopalian since my early twenties) and “liberal catholic.”

    (Please note deliberate scare quotes)
    “I used to think like you.”

    I am able to worship God without my bowels knotting up now.

    Y’all are welcome to consider me damned if it makes you feel better, but the following of Christ to me now entails embracing my glbt brothers and sisters (and teasing them about how to pronounce “glbt”), and gratefully accepting the sacrament from a woman priest.

    I also need traditional Anglican Cathedral Music, or at least music in obvious conversation with that tradition (West-Gallery, 16th-century -polyphony, etc). Campfire songs and altar-call-blackmail-songs are out. Otherwise, the message is that we don’t want *you (me).*

    I’ve been there (a literalist, bibliolatrous pseudoChristianity, whether ritualist or polished-up-Puritan). I left that. God called me back to *this (TEC, flaws and all).

    I will resist to my own death any attempt to turn this into that.

    Howard Preson Burkett
    Austin TX

  • Oriscus

    um, that’s Howard PresTon Burkett
    Austin, TX

  • MikeS

    TAF wrote:

    “As an aside, for those folks who think that ‘low cost’ airlines like Southwest are the driver here, do a quick price comparison. SW etc. aren’t cheaper than the traditional airlines…I don’t understand where the notion that they are comes from.”
    _____________________

    The “notion” (which isn’t merely a notion) that low cost carriers are the economic benchmark comes from industry-wide experience.

    The ticket prices didn’t start out being even. Low cost airlines, such as Southwest, used their advantages over time to get market penetration. Those advantages included lower labor costs, smaller (thus cheaper to operate) aircraft, careful targeting of vulnerable routes often avoiding the major airports, and no-frills, point to point travel that avoided the cost of a hub and spoke network. This all added up to a much smaller cost per available seat mile (CASM) which gave the LLCs a decisive competitive advantage. Targeted use of cut rate, $49 type fares allowed them to gain market share almost anywhere they chose.

    The traditional mainline carriers, on the other hand, had high labor costs, larger “legacy” aircraft, and the expensive hub and spoke system, while relying heavily on non-discounted full business fares to offset any losses in coach. These larger carriers simply had to adjust, especially when the bottom fell out of the business market after the dot.com collapse. 9/11 also had a terrible impact on large carriers who lost billions annually for a number of years, forcing them to reorganize themselves radically.

    The first thing they did was rid themselves of low density routes, which placed more emphasis on getting the most out of their high volume routes. They aggressively renegotiated labor contracts, using Chapter 11 courts to escape their ruinous contracts. Most downsized their large aircraft fleets, replacing one third to one half with very low cost regional jets, while modernizing with more efficient widebodies where possible. And they switched their business models from reliance on the disappearing, full fare business travel to the far larger discount travel market.

    With all that, the larger carriers must get the maximum utilization, i.e., load factor, out of each flight, just to break even. Half full aircraft just won’t cut it. Thus, we see record high load factor percentages well into the 90s, where loadfactors in the 70s had been the historical norms, and all the frills and comfort has gone the way of the dodo. And, yes, they count on the fact that frequent flyer miles are seldom redeemed.

    The larger carriers are only now beginning to make a profit again, barely. Yet, already the unions are clamouring for higher wages. Business travel might be picking up again, but it is unlikely to ever reach the level of the bygone, halcyon days. Companies are too smart for that now and many larger corporations leverage their travel by negotiating for lower corporate fares. Even the federal government gets into the act with its GSA lowest-bidder, City Pairs ticket program, a billion+ dollar a year program that is mandatory for most government agencies and is mostly flown at a loss to the carriers. The GSA fares are so cheap now, even Southwest declined to bid on any of the thousands of routes this year. It saves taxpayer dollars, but it helps the airlines not at all.

    Deregulation opened the door for those low cost carriers, just as it was intended to do. That opened the market to the great unwashed, most of whom will put up with a little discomfort to go see Grandma for Thanksgiving or her birthday. The loss of traditional, full fare business travel was the last nail in the coffin for the old way of doing things. Frequently flying bloggers might have a forum, but they don’t have sufficient numbers to drive industry trends.

    Sorry about that.

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  • Chester White

    Jeff Jarvis wrote:

    “I’m invested in Continental. I’m very happy their miles don’t expire. But I’ve never been able to use them.”

    Someone mentioned http://www.flyertalk.com, which is the place for you to visit and start looking for tips on how to use your “Nonepass” miles.

    What I did with my CO miles about a month ago was transfer them to Amtrak 1:1, then to Choice Privileges 1:5, then to Southwest RR credits 2500:1. 16 RR credits is a round trip; 100 in a year gets you a Companion Pass (free travel for a named Companion for 12 months). To do this, you need to have the Amtrak CC and either the Choice Visa or stay once in a while at Choice hotels (Comfort Inn, etc.).

    And the Amtrak to Choice rate is now only 1:3 (because of guys like me, I might add). But still a passable deal and a way to launder CO Nonepass into at least SOMETHING.

  • http://www.internetmarketingpr.com internet marketing pr

    Flying has never been so awesome. Connecting in the air is the best.

  • Mark in Texas

    Gee. Those sound like some dandy innovations.

    I would just be happy if Delta could just give me my seat assignments all the way through when I first check in so that I could read a book while connecting in the Atlanta airport instead of having to keep an eagle eye out for the harried and overworked Delta employee to dash from the last departure to my gate right before the plane starts boarding.

    I understand why airlines overbook and I understand why they jam us in like cattle I understand why they park on the apron so that we can’t get off the airplane. What I don’t understand is why they cannot give seat assignments all the way through for connecting flights. In what possible way does that squeeze a few more bucks out?

  • http://greg.abstrakt.ch Gregor J. Rothfuss

    For social flight, try http://blog.jonudell.net/2007/09/15/a-conversation-with-ed-iacobucci-about-the-reinvention-of-air-travel/

    As long as we continue to be stuck in a decrepit air traffic system that relies on 1930-era technology instead of satellite navigation, the industry is basically unfixable. Of course the program to fix the situation http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/service_units/enroute/surveillance_broadcast/ is years behind schedule, and on a 20 year time scale, which makes it pretty much useless.

    What is wrong with drastically reducing F2F meetings? If half the sales drones stayed in the office and used video conferencing, there would be seats available. WIth the billions of savings, you could easily buy all the Cisco telepresence gear you need. http://futurist.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/10/ciscos_hd_video.html

  • http://www.ccil.org/~cowan John Cowan

    Precisely because you can’t resell tickets or miles, the airlines can engage in price discrimination, selling high to the rich and low to the poor. That doesn’t work in a free market, because the poor will buy extra stuff for resale to the rich. But thanks to the War On Terror, ticket resale under the counter is effectively impossible, and the airlines get to grab all the consumer surplus. Allowing a free market would sacrifice all that monopolistic gain, probably pushing them over the edge into bankruptcy. They are well aware of this, so: never gonna happen.

  • Safran

    Jeff: A brilliant, succinct reboot for an industry badly in need of one. The airlines are the only industry I know of where the answer to the question “why don’t you do things better” is thrown back in the customers’ faces. It’s BS. They have regs to protect the airlines, the unions, the pilots, the flight personnel – everyone except their customers. Our needs come last.

    They have to stop blaming us for their problems. Someone else came along and did it cheaper and more efficiently? Too bad. You were stuck with dated systems? Sorry. We won’t pay extra to keep that in place. But we will pay for good service. We will become dedicated brand evangelists if given just a smidge more attention. (JetBlue gave us TVs. That’s all it took. TVs and blue potato chips.)

    Suppose you had a “brand name,” slightly higher-priced airline. Suppose it were 25% more per round trip for a great in-flight experience. If it were my company, I would want to ensure my employees were fresh for a major meeting at which big money could be on the line. Again, market forces: the companies that treat their employees best will get the best employees and will prosper.

    Jeff’s right – deregulation’s not the problem – the airlines’ inability to take advantage of the social tools that would bring about greater efficiencies is what’s dragging them down.

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  • http://charlesfrith.blogspot.com Charles Frith

    Its frustrating having ideas like this for the last few years and seeing them on other blogs. But also its confirms what I’ve been thinking.

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