As I sit in a USAir flight from Charlotte to Denver, it dawned on me that the airlines are going through a transition from a hospitality industry to that of retail.
Earlier it was all about hospitality. Hospitality included a greeting at the door, assisting the elderly to their seat, getting the customer a pillow and blanket, and of course offering refreshments that included food or snacks and beverages.
Somehow in the process of cost cutting, I see a classic case of death by pin-prick evolving. First the free food disappeared to cut down expenses. Then some financial genius measured the aggregate payload carried by an airline as a result of all the magazine weight, resulting in the higher fuel cost, and there went the extra magazines. Then went the peanuts and pretzels and the airlines started using captive hungry customers as a revenue generating opportunity by selling food. If that was not the first step to retail, I do not know what retail is!
As airlines move in this format, the big question is the evolving role of flight attendants. Why do we need them to still greet us as we exit the airplane? Why the farcical service of walking down the aisle with water once in a three hour flight? Why not be consistent and completely be a retail service. In that case the role of the flight attendant becomes more of an enforcer, similar to the ticket collector on a train. We do not expect the ticket collector to get us a pillow, do we?
To be consistent, put some vending machines on the plane, change the flight attendant clothing from hospitality aprons to service jumpsuits and simply offer great service, but don’t try to be in the hospitality industry. Customers might appreciate the honesty.
Then, if some airlines want to stand out and offer hospitality the old fashioned way THAT would be a true brand differentiator!