Customer Omega for the airlines

If there ever was a tipping point for an industry, headed down, surely the airline industry has reached that unfortunate metaphor. They’re fucked and their passengers with them.

On NPR this morning, I heard an old lady in a wheelchair forced to come to the airport to change her canceled American tickets — she wasn’t allowed to do it online or on the phone, not even after she said she was disabled and her daughter had seven children and a newborn and couldn’t take her to the O’Hare’s hell.

She is Customer Omega, the last screwed consumer.

You simply can’t treat people this way and survive. We all hate the airlines. We hate the experience on the plane and in the airport. We should fear for our safety, given American’s shoddy (and, one wonders, fraudulent) maintenance work. (As the Times said this morning, at least the FAA is doing its job.) The airlines never see themselves as our advocates, friends, servers; no, they are our prison wardens and enemies as they fight down legislation that mandates they should give us the crudest amenities a prisoner would get: clean water, air, and a toilet. The economics of the industry as it is being run today are unsustainable. And apart from the all-business-class airlines I try to fly every time I can (Eos, Silverjet, and there are more coming), there is not one visible bit of innovation — not one attempt to get out of this mess — visible in the industry.

Here are a few of my earlier posts thinking about a different future for the airlines. See also Chris Anderson on a new, free business model. What would you do to bring this industry back from the cliff? I think the essence of their future is there: They have to explore new value by having a decent relationship with us, using that new value to improve the experience so they can have a decent relationship. Screwing your customers is the least sustainable business model.