|Photos taken during San Francisco delay.|
Consider the Facebook page I Hate United Airlines and its good friends: I Hate American Airlines and I Hate Delta Airlines. Angry customers are in awe that Southwest Airlines reportedly reacts to long delays by buying its customers pizza. A simple act of kindness is the aberration not the norm.
My wife and I traveled from Austin to Santa Barbara to see Van Morrison perform. A short connection in San Francisco and we’d be there. But our United flight was delayed again and again. Weather, we were told. We arrived in San Francisco minutes after our connecting flight had left. The next flight out was canceled — and the next one was already full of people from that canceled fight. OK, we said, put us up and fly us out tomorrow. We don’t pay for weather delays, the United rep said. Later we learned that United had had a well-publicized computer problem the day before. Was it lingering?
We made the best of it and went full-on tourist: Argonaut Hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf, cable car, lunch at Nick’s Lighthouse. To the airport with plenty of time to still make the Van Morrison show. Another delay, another. United workers blamed it on air traffic control this time. We booked an airport hotel, resigned to flying home without having ever set foot in Santa Barbara. Our flight soon was canceled. We’d take a morning flight home.
Throughout it all, United workers treated us with resignation mixed with wariness. For our trouble we got two $150 vouchers — a third the cost of our flights. Customer service was an afterthought.
Yes, Austin chased Uber away with threats of regulation, — but it’s clear Uber has forced the old cab company model to shape up or vanish. Use PayPal instead of needing cash? Check. Half the cost? Oh yeah. Less structure. Less fuss. Less hassle.
It’s the same with telephones and television. Expensive landlines? Dead or dying. Cable television? Hah. Innovation and change have made none of the old, tired models safe from welcome extinction. The airline industry needs to be next.
We are living in a changing world where marketing pros talk of “connectedness” as the secret to success. They don’t mean networking; instead it’s about synthesis — taking the old ways and reworking them into something better. It’s what Uber did. It’s why Blockbuster Video and its exorbitant late fees seems like a distant memory. It’s why phone books are as useless as buggy whips.
I don’t have an answer to the airline industry problems, but I know airlines like United with their “friendly skies” need their creaky old models to change or step aside for something new. Please, creatives, Uber-ize them quickly. We need you.