The Problem with Flying… A Lack of Innovation?


Up, Up, and Away

As I get settled into 2012 and prepare for my first business trip of the new year, I find myself smiling on the outside, with knowledge that I now possess Platinum Medallion status on Delta Airlines.  This satisfaction quickly sours as I bite my lip until it bleeds and shed a tear when thinking back on 2011’s travel schedule.

Question: So what did 55 flights and nearly 90,000 miles teach me?

Answer: The real problem with air travel is the simple task of getting on and off of the airplane.  

Furthermore, I contend that the solutions to the issues causing so much passenger consternation are fully within the control of the airlines.  As a matter of fact, the airlines have largely created what appears to be the biggest contributor to the problem – baggage fees.

Baggage Fees

When I say that Baggage Fees are an issue, I don’t mean in the traditional, monetary sense, rather in the human behaviors it has created as a result.  By lowering prices slightly (and temporarily I might add), then adding on the “optional” baggage fees, the consumer has now been given an incentive to not check their bags.  This leads to slower TSA screening, crowded gate areas, and difficult boarding.  To exacerbate the issue, the aircraft crew most often does not actively manage the boarding process and participate in helping passengers load bags into the overhead properly, resulting in the space being woefully mismanaged.

So for those not fortunate enough to be in the front half of the line, they are left searching for a place to put their bag, most often behind them, which leads to swimming upstream like a salmon to retrieve one’s bag once the plane “has come to a complete stop”.  The fear of not securing adequate overhead space for what you know is a bag way too big, leads to cattle herding around the gate when the first boarding announcement is made.  While it is not exactly a mosh pit, it does take some diplomacy to squeeze through.  In some cases this is still better than the dreaded gate check, which most certainly adds to delayed deplaning for all parties.  I believe the ease at which a passenger can handle this gauntlet correlates directly to how often they fly, but could easily be improved if there were no bag fees and/or better load management by the flight crew.

The Infrequent Flyer

The Infrequent Flyer has the deck stacked against them from the get go, and it all starts with security screening.  The TSA will tell you the disparate and inconsistent procedures from airport to airport are part of the protocol to “keep terrorists on their toes”, but I’m not buying it.  Once successfully through security, the Infrequent Flyer is faced with a boarding pass that contains about 10 times more information than anyone needs.  I’d like to see the paper boarding passes more closely resemble the smartphone version: Destination, Flight Number, Time, Gate, Seat #, and a Bar Code.  The other 300 characters of text do nothing but confuse the Infrequent Traveler.  As pointed out above, the cattle herding at the gate will not cease  until the baggage issue is solved, so I am not expanding on that any further.  Once aboard the plane, the flight crew should take some pride in ownership of the boarding process and make sure that every bag that comes on board is stowed properly – that might mean moving up and down the aisle and physically turning suitcases around in the overheads and even removing smaller items for passengers to put under the seat in front of them.  Do you just let your kids throw the suitcases in the trunk before a road trip?  Of course not – you know they will not all fit unless you assist in loading.

Lack of Design Innovation

At the end of the day, the Baggage Fee issue will likely resolve itself when the airline realizes that the entire baggage hold on the plane is mow empty and they can install seats and market them as “steerage” or “super economy class” – now that’s innovation – better bring your mittens.  Kidding aside, we all know that innovation in the airline industry does not have a great track record.  Sure, some amenities have improved like  individual media/entertainment centers, lay down beds, satellite TV and in-flight Wi-Fi, but who are we kidding.  If you showed even the newest model Airbus or Boeing to Howard Hughes or Charles Lindbergh, they would likely shrug their shoulders and say “it’s an airplane, so what?”.

I don’t know if I read it somewhere in the past or what (I would hate to take credit), but someone needs to ask Disney or NASA how they would design an aircraft that could load passengers and carry-on bags more efficiently.  The problem is that it is almost too late now – all airports are being designed to accommodate what has become  a “standard” aircraft configuration – “single tiny door (maybe 2) connected to the airport terminal via retractable jet bridge, loaded in a single file fashion”.  Makes me cringe reading back what I just wrote.  Imagine if we loaded trains that way.  What if airplanes opened up with gull wings, and passengers could be loaded in multiple queues – even if not an opening for each seat, what if there was a door every 10 rows?  Think about how quickly you can get off and on a roller coaster!

What if all passenger loading and securing of carry-ons happened inside of the terminal in a “pod” that was then lifted and placed inside of the awaiting airplane through doors like those on the Space Shuttle cargo bay or sliding it into the plane through an open nose cone?

Certainly we can design a plane with enough structural rigidity to pull this off and maintain cabin pressure and comfort?  Treat me like cargo please.

Come on man.

Tell me what you think – is innovation in commercial aircraft design the answer?

Upcoming Blog Topics – Brazil, Negotiation, and Air Travel


As we start a new year, I resolve to write more frequently – but make no promises!  I am literally brimming with ideas but no time to turn them into written words.   Over the Christmas break I was able to reflect a bit on some things experienced during my travels in the first part of December – keep an eye out for upcoming articles on the following topics:

  • Brazil Observations
    • Christmas in Sao Paulo
    • Sushi, Pizza, and Hot Wings
    • Orange Juice Prices
    • Expansion of consumer credit
  • Negotiating in a foreign country
    • Pick your battles
    • Recognize when you have no leverage
    • Be willing to barter
    • In most cases, A deal is better than NO deal
  •  The REAL problems with air travel – BOARDING
    • Carry-Ons vs Baggage Fees
    • Infrequent Flyers
    • Lack of Design Innovation

Thanks for you support – and keep on reading!

Be sure to Like, +1, Tweet, or Share my blog with others who care about the same things you do…

Anyone out there suffer from Marketing Withdrawal?


It has been said that on a daily basis, American exposure rates to advertising and marketing messages in ranges from as low (low?) of 500 to several thousand and beyond depending on the source.  Most Americans have tuned out buzz and as a result most marketing messages are wasted.  However, in my case, as Marketer I pride myself on trying to be exposed to even more than the average bear so I can continue to build my body of knowledge and understanding of what is working and what is not.  I quickly, but carefully, look at each email, direct mail piece and banner ad presented to me.  I’m the kind of nerd that  likes sorting and taking inventory of my direct mail mail at home; this enables me to create an index or barometer of sorts in my mind about the state of marketing and more specifically consumer targeting and relevance in my small part of the world and for my “peeps” who share my demographic category – we typically receive multiple pieces for each category below in either CRM or prospecting efforts on a weekly basis:

  • financial services
  • automotive dealers and manufacturers
  • insurance companies
  • credit card offers
  • cable and satellite TV
  • real estate
  • travel
  • education and seminars
  • pool cleaners, landscapers
  • local restaurants and shops
  • home improvement mag-a-logs
  • mail order catalogs

You name it, we get it; the volume of mail ebbs and flows to a cadence I quickly would recognize.  I gleefully open and devour each one, thinking about the relevance, the creative and the offer presented.   Now that I have moved to a new house, our mailbox is very empty these days.   Since much of this mail is not sent First Class, it is not forwarded by the post office, and the mailer will have to wait until they process their file through the NCOA process to discover that I have moved.  The fact is, moving in to a new house costs money and advertisers are missing a key behavioral cue – when you move you need things and you are eager to spend on building the nest.  We also need to know who delivers take-out food here, where is the closest grocery, and where I will get my dry cleaning done.

You may have read on this blog the on-going saga related to my recent residential move and the customer service challenges we have faced with the various service providers for [Satellite TV] [DSL Internet] – the DSL situation was never resolved and I have since cancelled the service.  In trying to place an order for Cable Internet service there seems to be some complications there as well – more to come.  I thought we were becoming a service economy?  If so what happened to service? 

Anyway, as a result of no direct mail and no internet access at home (for nearly a month now) I must say that I am suffering from Marketing Withdrawal.  As a Marketer, I feed on marketing and rely on it to spark new ideas and thoughts.  Has anyone else suffered this condition?

If the World is Flat, why do you need a Sherpa?


Flat Earth Sherpa

By now, I am sure you all have read The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman?  If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend you read it right away – it will change the way you think about the future that is already here.  With that said, the basic premise that I took away from the book in a single sentence is that technology has essentially “flattened” the  Earth by enabling real-time collaboration on a global basis. The concept of a small manufacturer in India, sourcing raw materials in China, perhaps on Alibaba, with funding via micro loan from the UK, and selling finished goods on eBay to an American consumer is now a reality.

This is where the irony enters.

This new flat Earth has been a tremendous enabler for small and medium-sized businesses, but has muddied the waters for much larger companies.  I spend a great deal of my time consulting with some of the world’s largest and most recognizable consumer brands, and for the most part these companies recognize and are actively trying to exploit this new flat Earth, but frankly they have no idea how to choose the best countries for expansion, how to maximize growth for those countries they are already in, and in either case, how to navigate the myriad of technology, data, cultural, legal and consumer privacy challenges.

Hence, the need for a Sherpa (hint: ME).

If your company or if you have a client that is facing these types of Global Expansion challenges in this new flat earth, please let me know – I can lead the way.

It has been a while since I have posted an article, and I certainly have no shortage of topics to write about; the fact remains that  I simply do not have enough time in the day.  And to add insult to injury, my travel schedule and client load keeps me flush with article ideas, but  no time to write about them.  I actually did some of the final editing for this post on my new iPhone 4 (more on that in future articles) while my son drank his milk and watched Little Einsteins from my lap!

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and keep your eyes open for a few rapid-fire posts over the next week or so – having not written in a while, they will be based on my travels and observations over the last couple of months.  Don’t forget to leave your comments and provide feedback.

Thank you for reading and Happy Hunting!

Restoring Faith in the Universe!


EarbudsEveryone has heard the expression “bad things happen to good people” and for about the millionth time in my life, I was thinking it to myself last week.  I was traveling on business (again) and in my typical, helpful fashion I was assisting an older woman lift her “way-too-large-to-be-a-carry-on” bag into the overhead compartment, and painfully watched in slow motion as one of the ear buds on my BlackBerry headset launched into the air and tumbled end-over-end into the darkness between 2 very large passengers seated below.  Rather than put myself in the middle of that mess and and hold up my fellow boarding passengers, I simply moved on, mumbling under my breath.  This meant that a) my in-flight music would not be in stereo  and b) the client call I had planned during my trek through the Atlanta airport would now carry a higher degree of difficulty given the background noise that can only be produced on a weekday morning in that mammoth airport.

Upon arriving in Atlanta, I made a beeline for one of those airport kiosks for a replacement, and found that the gentleman wanted $8.99 for a set of 5 pairs of different ear buds in multiple sizes, shapes and colors.  I told the guy I’d pass, and as I started to walk towards the newly opened Blackberry store across the way,  he called me back.  What happened next might go down in history as a business traveler miracle – wait for it – he reached into a drawer and pulled out a single pair of replacement ear buds, shrink-wrapped oem-style, and handed them to me with a smile and a Merry Christmas.  I patted his shoulder and said Merry Christmas to you too.

So carry on good people of the world – give and you shall receive!

So what does this have to do with marketing?

Take your pick – whether it is asking for permission to market to your customers or resolving client complaints without them going ape-crazy on you first – do the right thing and it comes back to you!  I promise.

What do you think?

 

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? Let’s Hope Not!


I just returned from a short trip to Las Vegas.  Sin City.  Entertainment Capital of the World.  Capital of Second Chances.  Marriage Capital of the World.  They say “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, but for the economy’s sake, let’s hope that’s not true. 

For a late shoulder-season trip, almost off-season, I would describe the environment as very brisk.  Nearly every taxi line, lobby front desk, and the sidewalks of both the strip and downtown were flowing freely with visitors.  Granted I have seen it busier, but it was the 1st week of June and well over 100º by midday.   

Each casino I visited seemed to be brimming with consumers, joyfully throwing money down for a chance to make it grow.  As I watched (and participated) I thought to myself that it seemed a lot less risky than the market right now and was a welcome distraction from a) the situation in the Gulf as I live in SW Florida, and b) the situation in the NBA Finals as I am from NE Ohio – Go Cavs!   The pool scene was no different.  Dozens of cabanas lined the pool decks, fully sold out at more than $300 per day, not counting bottle service, water misters, TVs, or extra chairs.  What? People dropping $1,000 a day at the pool?  What recession?  What oil spill?  It’s Vegas baby! 

We have all heard that “noticeable” economic recovery trails the actual shift in fundamentals by about 6 months.  It appears to be that time in Vegas, and I’d say the rest of us are getting closer to actually seeing consumers freely spending everywhere.  

It is very important that marketers get positioned in the minds of consumers for the recovery.   It is crucial that you continue a dialogue with your customers even when they pull back spending or stretch the time between purchases so that you do not risk losing them to a timely offer from a competitor.  And prospecting in a down market can be very fruitful ground as many companies stop prospecting when the economy is in the tank, leaving the door open for you to be top of mind when the recovery takes shape.

So my advice is to double-down your marketing bets – then watch your business grow.

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