Bait and switch

I feel bad for the airline industry. They are caught in a never-ending price war due to online websites and their own commodification. Pick the cheapest flight to get from here to there…

The natural short-term solution is bait and switch. Advertise the lowest price you can imagine and then require add on fees so you can actually make a profit.

Air Canada, which my readers generally concur is the single worst major airline in North America, has a fascinating policy. No oversized duffel bags, regardless of weight, unless they contain hockey gear. No shin guards, you pay $80 a bag.

Of course, you can have whatever rules you want, even if they’re only designed to help defensemen. The problems with bait and switch are:

  1. You have to be very careful to apply them equally, because people hate being treated worse than everyone else.
  2. You have to be prepared for anger, resentment and brand disintegration.

As I said, this is a short-term strategy. Yesterday, they charged me $160 for two bags that had successfully gone through their system uncharged just three weeks earlier. And they did it only three minutes before four of my fellow travelers (and friends) checked virtually identical bags for free.

But the purpose of this rant isn’t to hassle Air Canada. The purpose is to learn a key lesson from Disney:
When there is both pain and pleasure associated with your service, work extremely hard to separate them by time and geography.

Disney charges a fortune for the theme park, but they do it a week before you get there, or at a booth far far away from the rides. By the time you get to the rides, you’re over it. The pain isn’t associated with the fun part.

Airlines, on the other hand, surround the very thing they sell (getting you home) with armed guards, untrained TSA agents, long lines and sneering gate agents eager to take your money when you have absolutely no expectation or choice and when your stress is at its highest. This is a problem in the long run.