What If Series: What If Airlines Graded Passengers?

Frequent readers of my posts, whether it be here at VeraSage, on Twitter (follow me @morriscpa), on FaceBook, or my any of my other ranting grounds, are aware that Customer Selection and De-Selection are both common themes and are core competencies necessary for any business to succeed long term. If you aren’t a frequent reader, then welcome to a glimpse of my inner thoughts and convictions.

Any frequent flyer with an IQ greater then the mean temperature of San Francisco recognizes that operating an airline is an ever increasing futility against reason. Ignoring the external forces (weather, commodity prices, regulatory hurdles, management – labor ineffectiveness, etc.) – one significant challenge is simply its customer base. Frankly, airlines are poor at customer selection. And if you can’t select them, how would they ever be able to de-select them?

Toxic customers ruin any business. Toxic customers are the complainers, whiners, cheapskates, abusers (physical, mental, and financial), and emotional drags on a firm’s emotional satisfaction, happiness, and well being. In my firm (www.cpadudes.com) we frequently terminate customers who do not meet our criteria for success. There is no obligation for an enterprise to serve all who desire service (of course {this is my Don Rickles moment} – I am not suggesting service discrimination on anything that remotely would be consider unethical, immoral, or down right illegal – that would be foolish, wrong, and stupid).

Back to airlines, customer selection, de-selection, and the overall experience economy.

Airlines employ many strategies to attract, retain, and reward customers. The most prominent of course is their frequent flyer program. Airline customers (me included) will select routings that are reminiscent of a Cirque’ de Soleil acrobatic routine as they twist their way to their destination – all because of additional miles, perks, better seats, free baggage allotments, and a whole host of reasons). Yet, these incentives are both Ying and Yang and encourage both positive and negative behaviors.

The positive behaviors are easy for an airline to measure – frequency of travel, class of purchased service, share of theoretical wallet, etc. are all readily available for any spreadsheet addicted financial analytics department. Yet what about the costs associated with those negative customers? Where are those measurements and indicators? Airlines are missing a golden opportunity to enhance their overall customer flying experience by seeking ways to identify toxic customers and either incentivise better behaviors or, better yet, boot them off their planes and thereby freeing up capacity to service better customers that are willing and able to pay for an enhanced experience.

I have some ideas on how airlines could in fact do this.

First there should be some physical attributes to deal with. And here, like in all important measures, judgements matter more than strict measurements – airlines should trust the instincts, skills, and capabilities of their overall team and allow them input into this process.

Airlines could add or subtract points/mileage/etc on a host of criteria that they believe are important.

Let start with overall impression of attitude. Is the customer friendly, outgoing, smiling, pleasant, polite, observant, attentive to both team members and fellow passengers? I have witnessed more than my fair share of jerks, jackasses, snobs, snots, crybabies, complainers, whiners, dirt bags, and piss ants to fill the Fed-Ex fleet standing up. These people ruin a perfectly bumpy E-Ticket ride and drag everyone else around them down in their menticidal spiral. So, lets say that one of these flyers, full of toxicity, happen to be flying – then one or more of the crew members could easily document that the passenger in seat 13F failed to fly nice and therefore should lose some (if not all) of their frequent flyer points. Their file could be flagged as painful and the airline could adjust their pricing, seat selection, and/or other criteria to extract more from this customer on their next flight with a series of warnings, reminders, etc. of expected behaviors, attitudes, etc. to allow them an opportunity to improve their behaviors before the airline permanently releases them to ruin a competitor.

Next, airlines could evaluate their (elective) physical attributes. Here I am thinking about matters like, cleanliness, odors, smells, etc.. I don’t know about you, but I think that a recent shower before flying is simply polite and other customers have no desire to smell DNA evaporating into the communal air system (this goes for overnight connecting flights as well – deodorant is eligible as a carry-on (or at least a quick wash down would also work), add to bad BO – is the abuser of colognes, tobacco, and flavorful foods that produce alterations to more than one of our senses. In essence, smell like a marathon runner without a shower, denied boarding.

Also – what about abuse to the airplane? Here we could consider items like do they craft their initials into the seat in front of them? Do they leave their trash behind when offered the opportunity to toss into a garbage bag? Do they abuse the overhead with too big of a bag? Do they ignore other customers that need some help? Do they clean up after themselves when using the facilities?

And then there is how adaptable is the person? Meaning, how mature are they when dealing with crying babies (this is different then being a crybaby), request for slight seat adjustments to handle families, loved ones, etc.? How about listening to and following directions? We are suppose to be adult. We may realize that cell phones have nothing to do with airplane navigation systems but the procedures are clear – nobody gets to leave until that last phone call is closed. And when caught trying to cheat – I have witnessed complete arrogance by mostly men, in suits, that probably attended an Ivy League (or equivalent) school complete with ego that goes with that honor. They fold their phones down on their lap as the flight attendants perform their duties – as if they are the smartest people on board. Personally, if I ran the airline, I would haul them off, not refund their money, outsource them to my competitor, flag their file, and serve wine and beer to all that want it as a celebration. But, then again, I have been accused of being slightly irrational in my thinking (a compliment IMHO).

If airlines can provide negative incentives, they certainly can provide positive ones. Airlines can reward excellent behaviors with additional credits, mileage, perks. They can reward behaviors they like and shun the ones they don’t. Names could be shared amongst the airlines – like credit scores – thereby customizing the risk/reward of admitting a certain passenger onto their plane.

Actions have consequences and adults should be prepared to suffer the costs of poor behavior and receive the benefits of good behaviors. Airlines don’t have to service all. Passenger’s have choices on who to fly, why shouldn’t airlines have the same type of choices.

Freedom is an exercise in civility. In order to progress forward we need to learn to coordinate our activities, behave well in public, and produce more then we take (government could learn something here too – why does birth provide a grant to lifetime presentation in a country?).

I look forward to the day when airlines start grading their customers (beyond the simple mileage process) and in their process move my fellow air travelers forward (along with our civilization) in their never ending journey of humanity.

What if?


  1. Right on Dan! I especially like the idea of losing FF points if you try to board with all out travel trunk trying to claim it is a carry on.

    “I am sorry, sir, but that is clearly a full sized suitcase, I am awarding all your points to seatmate who understands common courtesy.”

Speak Your Mind


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.