We’ve all heard about a recent air rage incident on American Airlines where a woman (seated in the second to last row in the back of the aircraft) reclined her seat. The man behind her was incensed that her seat bled into his personal space and he had no way to reclaim any space as his seat would not recline–his seat was backed up to the bulkhead (wall). What did he do?

He kept hitting her seat with his fist to get her to unrecline her seat. He was incensed. She was incensed. The flight attendant offered no effective assistance to either passenger when asked to intervene.

Since airline deregulation in October 1978 (when Jimmy Carter was President of the United States), airlines have been doing everything they can to cram more seats into their aircraft. More seats equates to more revenue potential for each flight. The last few times I’ve flown, I’ve noticed:

  • The seat rows are so close, it is nearly impossible to grab anything that you’ve stowed under the seat in front of you (unless you’re in an aisle seat) if all the seats are occupied on your row of the aircraft. In the last year, I read the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has become concerned that it may be impossible to evacuate an aircraft fast enough due to seat crowding.

  • The bathrooms have shrunk in size to the point where they are not easy to get inside or leave. Smaller bathrooms offer the opportunity to potentially add more rows of seats–inches add up! I had to carefully arrange my feet to simply open the door of the bathroom once inside. It was like playing Twister

What do I conclude? 

Passengers are being treated like freight. We purchase a seat which gives us a volume of space we are allowed to use for the duration of our flight. Our comfort is not important. Our ability to open a laptop or read a book in coach is limited, particularly if the person in front of us reclines their seat into your space. If you are a road warrior forced to fly in coach, your ability to get any work done is severely constrained.

Delta Airlines CEO offered that the woman should have asked the man behind her if it was okay to recline her seat. While that might be one option, the Delta CEO misses the real point of the problem. Here’s the way I look at it.

The domestic airlines are taking advantage of their customers, particularly in coach class travel. The executives are driven solely by profits and, I’m sorry to say, greed. That may be okay in the short-term, but is it sustainable?

The executives should be asking:

  • What role do they play in this air rage incident? 
  • Is this an aberration? Or, is it part of a worsening trend? 
  • Is the desire to get more and more seats into a plane going to cause more and more incidents like this? I’d argue emphatically “yes.”

Like it or not, air rage is customer feedback about what customers are seeing as an untenable situation. It would be inappropriate to think this is merely the result of 2 intolerant people meeting in the back of an aircraft yet this is undoubtedly how it is being viewed in board rooms.

It’s uncomfortable to fly today in coach (cattle) class. Everybody knows it. It’s time for airline executives to address this in a favorable way.

 

Thought for the week:

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” –Ernest Hemingway

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Dave Gardner

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker, author, and blogger based in Silicon Valley. He's been in the front row for the birth and evolution of Silicon Valley, the innovation capital of the world. Since 1992, Dave Gardner focuses on making the complex simple around people, process and technology. Dave is the author of Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business Strategy - How Build to Order, Assemble to Order, Configure to Order, Make to Order, and Engineer to Order Manufacturers Increase Profits and Better Satisfy Customers.

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