Innovation in the Air – United Abandons Airline Dogma and (surprise) it Works!

A recent Wall Street Journal article details United Airlines’ “p.s.” service, an enhanced First and Business-class offering between New York, LA and San Francisco. As airlines grow increasingly adversarial with their customers, removing pillows, snacks and flight crew decorum, and nickel and dime passengers for everything from checked baggage to bad in-flight entertainment, the move by United stands out for taking the opposite tack.

With a great abundance of whining about oil prices and cheap customers, airlines seem to be tripping over each other to offer the poorest service levels. Champagne has long since disappearing from most first class cabins on domestic flights, and pity to poor soul in coach who might think an 8oz. bottle of water would be included in her fare. Business travelers have long been the golden goose of the airlines, and now even their benefits are cut while fares climb. Airline dogma seems to be: they’ve got nowhere else to go, let’s cut ’em to the bone!

United, albeit only on two routes, jettisoned this mantra of mediocrity and embraced a “revolutionary” concept: people will pay a premium price for a premium product, and you’ll actually make money on it! As the WSJ mentions, loyalists of other airlines have defected to take advantage of this premium service, and the routes are the most profitable of United’s entire network. Color me skeptical, but I fear few other airlines will take notice, and most will continue cutting service and raising fares, making flying a nightmare from the second one gets exposed to the inanities of the TSA to the moment one arrives at their destination. The silver lining of this article is its applicability to other industries, and a testament to the effectiveness of moving against the pack.

With the economy turning sour, many companies are doing their best tortoise impersonation, retreating into their shells and looking at cost cutting and retrenchment as their preferred modus operandi. This creates a marketplace full of opportunity. Whether full or flush, there are always consumers and businesses that need a premium product and are willing to pay handsomely for it. Internal organizations, like IT can strive to create value and increase competitive ability while their counterparts in other organizations pour over their budgets, red pens in hand.

While your competitors refuse their customers a handful of stale peanuts, offer yours a cool glass of bubbly.

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