Tag archive for "airlines"

by Bill, Management, Motivation

Be Careful, Very Careful What You Incent People to Do

No Comments 13 March 2011

Have you noticed recently that airline flight attendants are becoming considerably more insistent that boarding passengers place only large items (e.g., roll-aboard suitcases) in the overhead bins, and stuff everything else under the seat in front of them? Some even take it upon themselves to remove smaller items like backpacks from the overhead space, identify the owner, and tell them to stow it underneath the seat, whether they want to or not.

This is occurring because most of the major domestic airlines introduced exorbitant checked baggage fees as part of their a-la-carte pricing schemes. Yes, they gain revenue from the checked baggage fees, but three costly and undesirable things happen as a result:

  1. With a substantial disincentive for checking baggage, most passengers opt to schlep all of their items for the trip thru gate security and onto the plane. Security lines get longer and the inspection process becomes less effective.
  2. As no aircraft has ample overhead bin space to accommodate all this stuff, the boarding process groans and drags as passengers make futile efforts to cram it in anyhow. This results in lots of late aircraft departures, not to mention broken overhead bin doors. I was on a flight recently where we pushed back 11 minutes late purely due to “packing” delays.
  3. Under pressure to get the aircraft boarded for an on-time departure, flight attendants become the luggage police, which puts them in constant unhappy conversations with customers, and diverts attention from their far more important safety-related duties, like observing that 5 of the 6 passengers seated in an emergency exit row don’t speak English.

Now, imagine what might happen if the luggage fee was reversed, and luggage could be checked to the passenger’s final destination for free (within limitations), but any carry-on items other than a single, small personal bag would incur a $25 fee.

My bet is that, again, because people (all of us) do what we are incentivized to do, the bulkier items like suitcases would go in the belly of the plane where they belong, airlines would still make money from “boarded luggage” fees, operating expense would improve from a more efficient boarding process, flight attendants would be much better utilized, and passengers would be a lot happier.

Let’s step back and look at this thing thru a wider lens. This situation didn’t get to where it is because airline executives are idiots (okay, a few are, but not in the main.) The fact of the matter is that all (repeat, all) of us have similar situations where, with the best of intentions, we have incented people (employees, customers, vendors, partners, children) to do the wrong things. We pay a steep price for that.

As a suggestion, take a half-hour this week and look for some areas where you might be able to improve organizational outcomes (and maybe some people’s lives, including your own) by adjusting or eliminating counter-productive incentives.


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the newly released book,Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their  website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill

Travel Tips for Infrequent Flyers

1 Comment 26 June 2009

While returning from a business trip to New York last evening, I experienced a 2 hour non-stop reminder that we have now entered what frequent flyers refer to as “amateur season”, one of those periods when planes and airports are packed with lots of folks for whom modern air travel is not second nature.

It dawned on me that it might be helpful to re-post a piece I did a while back which offered some insights and ideas from 30+ years of regular business travel. So, in no particular order, here are some things to think about before you next venture into the “friendly skies.”

Planning Your Trip

For many, planning a trip means logging on to one of the large, Internet-based travel sites such as Expedia, where you can plan, reserve, and purchase your entire travel experience online… almost. I say, “almost” because these days, travel involves a lot of forced variability due to the vagaries of weather, crew scheduling, security, flight cancellations, missed connections, and the like. In such cases, you might regret not having a dedicated, professional travel agent on your side. A travel agent – remember them? They’re still out there, and can be worth their weight in gold when the stuff hits the fan. Here’s one I think the world of.

Generally speaking, airline and airport operations are highly interdependent, and contingent on a level of perfection that seldom materializes. Hence, most days, your best chance for an on-time, relatively hassle-free flight is to catch the first thing smoking in the morning. After that, the cumulative burden of weather and air-traffic delays can make for an aggravating experience that gets worse as the day progresses.

Be sure to take advantage of the very best thing the airlines have done in the past ten years and check in for your flight and print your boarding passes before leaving for the airport. Most airlines now also let you sign up to receive travel alerts via text message or email. Do it.


After years (no, decades) of carrying a briefcase crammed with electronic gear, files, and what not, together with a garment bag, and giving myself a screwed up neck, I’ve adopted some new habits insofar as travel packing is concerned. In terms of what goes with me through security and into the passenger compartment of the plane, I’ve become a lot more of a minimalist.

Gear consists of an iPhone with Vibe Vmoda earbuds, Kindle2 Reader, and 12″ Mac Powerbook that I’ll do whatever it takes to keep it updated and operating. In fact, it just came out of the shop with a new optical drive. I’ve not yet made the conversion to one of those omnibus power adapters, but if Santa is listening, I might get the chance.

Paper files are either scanned and stored on a 4 gig thumb drive, uploaded to our intranet, or FedEx’ed to my destination. Keys, medicines, an emergency flashlight (!), hairbrush, and copy of our latest book round out the carry-on articles. The briefcase is gone. Everything carried aboard goes into a mid-sized, black Tumi backpack. It’s stylish, useful, and puts the weight squarely on my back, rather than one shoulder.

Leave the good jewelry at home, for more than one reason. Consider using a plastic watch on trips. With the advent of cell phones, I’ve quit wearing a watch altogether when traveling. And remember, your shoes are going to be coming off, so wear a pair that can easily be slipped back on.

It’s a matter of personal preference but, in view of the TSA’s stance on liquids, I’ve concluded that simultaneously managing a boarding pass, photo ID, backpack, laptop, shoes, jacket, suitcase, and quart sized Ziploc bag with carry-on liquids at the screening site is, well… nuts. Hence, my default position is to check luggage, unless the trip calls for an interline connection. In my case, luggage amounts to an olive colored Hartmann roll-aboard because, A. It’s well made, and B. The color stands out on the baggage carousel. We all like to whine about airline miscues with checked luggage, but in actuality, they do a reasonably good job. Correction, Delta does a reasonably good job. BTW, though it seems counter-intuitive, if your luggage is checked through a hub city, as mine often is, your chances of having a bag go awry are actually greater when you have a long connection, rather than a tight one. So, keep your connection times under 90 minutes and you’ll improve your odds.

Alternatively, with a couple days notice , you can bypass the baggage carousel altogether by FedEx’ing your stuff directly to your hotel. Trust me, it’s a luxury you can really get used to. While we’re on the subject of shipping, do everyone a favor and resist the urge to attempt to board a commercial aircraft bearing all your worldly possessions stuffed into a Hefty garbage bag. That goes for holiday presents, as well as the front end parts for your daughter’s ‘93 Buick. The less stuff you can travel with these days, the better. Be especially judicious about looking for ways to mix and match with your wardrobe. This sounds (and is) unstylish, but I’ve reached the point where, but for one pair of jeans which are worn on the trip, if it isn’t black, white, or gray, it stays home. As for those jeans, I wear them, together with a long sleeved cotton shirt because they are more comfortable to travel in, and though we don’t like to think about it, less flammable in the event of uh… let’s just call it a very rough landing.

Use one external pocket of your carry-on bag to stow any loose items (coins, jewelry, money clip, cell phone, etc.) that will cause you to have more intimate contact than desired with TSA screeners and their adult toy collection.


While we can’t control the weather, airline scheduling, or the Neanderthals who set policy at the TSA, there are a lot of things each of us can do to eliminate further delays, and make the experience a little less burdensome. The first has to do with your interaction with the gate agent. Two words of advice here – be nice! These folks don’t make the schedules, fix (or break) the planes, or screw up the weather. They do, however, have the final say about who actually gets on the plane and where they sit, so don’t give them a hard time, ever.

Failing to orient yourself before boarding an aircraft winds up inconveniencing a lot of other people, as you stand in the aisle fumbling with your ticket or carry-on luggage. Know your seat number, and be prepared to stow your belongings quickly. Upon reaching your seat, get out of the aisle as quickly as possible.

Unless this is a well-practiced routine for you, please don’t attempt boarding the aircraft while carrying on a cell phone conversation, or any conversation for that matter. It’s going to slow you down, and really piss off the rest of us who want to see the plane leave on time.

Please remove any briefcase, backpack, or purse from your shoulder before entering the aircraft, and carry it in front of you as you proceed down the aisle. The people who are already seated don’t appreciate getting smacked in the head with it as you pass. While in the process of getting seated (and throughout the flight), try to avoid grabbing the seat back of the seat in front of you, because it jostles the occupant of that seat.

Be respectful of other people’s stuff when stowing items in the overhead bin, and when closing the bin, please don’t slam it. The noise hurts some people’s ears. Note to flight attendants: This goes for you, too.

Note to rookies and road warriors alike: Please check to see that your assigned seat number and the one you’re about to plant your derriere into are one and the same before settling in. This should be a complete no-brainer, but with the aforementioned cell phone distractions, coupled with some goofy seat numbering by the airlines, it’s not. If you can quickly and readily resolve any seating issues without the need to summon a referee, do so. Flight attendants really do have better things to do.

Simple Human Courtesies

Please try to bear in mind that you are entering an environment where you are in very close proximity with about a hundred other people. Indeed, as travel guru, Joe Brancatelli puts it, “sitting any closer might constitute marriage in some states.”

Aside from the seemingly obvious Andrew Speaker-type consideration, your presence will be enjoyed a great deal more if you are conscious of other people’s senses of sight, smell, and hearing, not to mention their personal space. As but one case in point, bear in mind that a little perfume or cologne goes a long way – a really long way on an aircraft. Ditto for some ethnic foods, or, for that matter, greasy cheeseburgers smothered in onions, especially at 8AM. Come on, folks, that stuff really doesn’t belong on the plane. And, if you’ve been drinking prodigious quantities of beer or eating burritos, YOU don’t belong on the plane, got it?

Be respectful of other folks’ space. Unless you are seated in 1st class or have a coach seat with a small child in the seat immediately behind you, do not, repeat, do NOT recline your seat back, as doing so really cramps the passenger behind you.

Consider the fact that just because you can call everyone you know from the plane, doesn’t mean that you should. While the person on the other end of the phone conversation may be interested in knowing that “you’ve just boarded your flight”, the rest of us are not. If you really must, as my son and daughter-in-law admonish their grandson to do, please use your “inside voice.” That also goes for those who simply must regale their seatmates with their latest conquests, troubles, or solutions for the planet. Those who want to avoid such entertainment should get (and use) a pair of the aforementioned earbuds.

Yet, let’s keep our sense of humor about us, too. If you are bothered, as a Southwest flight attendant was, that a “scantily clad” 23 year old happens to be sitting next to you, just reach above your head, push the “ding” button, and you’ll be able to quickly auction your seat to someone with different sensibilities.

Finally, if you can extend a courtesy to a fellow traveler, do it. When you encounter a desert combat uniform clad soldier in your travels, pay their breakfast or bar tab, offer to let them use your cell phone, or just tell them “thank you.” Give the older folks a break, too. Don’t crowd them, and offer a helping hand when you are able. With any luck, you’ll get there someday, too.


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Management, Think About It...

Professional? Hardly.

No Comments 17 July 2008

US Airways a/cB-767Yesterday, the US Airline Pilots Association, on behalf of member pilots at US Airways, placed a full-page ad, “A Message to Our Valued Passengers…” in USA Today (p. 5A).  The ad lambasted US Airways management for “pressuring your Captain to reduce fuel levels for your flight in order to save money.” The ad goes on to assert the aircraft captain’s prerogative to, “ensure a fuel load that will safely fly you to your destination with all the reserves necessary…” Translation: We’re in a power struggle with management, so we’re going to whip up sympathy and support by giving you something extra to worry about when you’re traveling. They might be willing to let planes fall out of the sky, but we won’t. Yeah, right.

In our book, Contented Cows MOOve Faster, we wrote about the extra effort and ensuing productivity that arise from treating employees as professionals. The model we used was that of commercial airline pilots. Though I’m sticking with the larger argument, the behavior of this particular pilot group, their union, and ultimately US Airways management bring into serious question the use of the term, “professional” for two reasons:

1. Professionals don’t take their grievances with one another into the public square, and
2. Professionals certainly don’t insinuate that safety is being compromised when it is not.

One of the reasons that our domestic airlines are in trouble is because there are still too many seats chasing paying fannies. Approximately 50,000 of those seats are controlled by US Airways.  For the benefit of those carriers (e.g., Delta, Southwest, Continental, Jet Blue) who do generally behave responsibly, I’ve resolved to do my part to equitably correct this market imbalance by making sure that my fanny never finds itself in a US Airways seat. On the premise that I’m not going to trust that fanny to anyone but a professional, our travel agent has been given explicit instructions that Greyhound comes before US Airways. Those clowns deserve one another, but not paying customers.

by Bill, Management, Think About It...

Plane Pains

1 Comment 19 April 2008

airport linesForty years ago I experienced my very first commercial aircraft flight(s) on a trip from Charleston, WV to Sarasota, FL to visit my grandfather. Though the second flight leg, from Atlanta to Sarasota was canceled, something I found a bit unnerving as a teen-aged newbie flyer traveling alone, everything turned out okay. I suppose in retrospect it was good preparation for things to come.

In the intervening years, as a veteran business traveler, I have experienced thousands of flight legs, millions of air miles, and I dare say at least a hundred canceled flights. What I have not experienced until this year however is the kind of meltdown of the American air transport system that is going on at present.

When America’s largest air carriers decide to park, at one time, an entire aircraft type for inspections, re-inspections, or re re-inspections relating to an eighteen month old (non-emergency) airworthiness directive, something is broken indeed. As chronicled in the April 10 USA Today, and Joe Brancatelli’s Biz Travel Life, over a quarter million air travelers have been inconvenienced in the past week as the result of American Airlines’ grounding of its MD 80 and 90 series fleet, for the 2nd time in two weeks.

When four, count ’em (ATA, Frontier, Skybus, Aloha) airlines go bust in the same week that four of the six legacy carriers (Delta, Northwest, Continental, United), also formerly bankrupt companies, are pursuing shotgun weddings, something is amiss. Ditto for the fact that, according to a study published on 4/18 in USA Today, air travel in the U.S. took longer (30-40% longer in many cases) in 2007 then it did twenty years ago! And while all this is going on, the Department of Transportation’s uppermost priority is… get this… drumroll please… increasing denied boarding compensation for the handful of travelers who actually wind up getting bumped from a commercial flight. Yikes!


1. Contrary to what one might conclude when boarding one crowded commercial flight after another, we’ve still got too many aircraft seats chasing paying fannies.

2. Carriers are being allowed to use the bankruptcy process as a low cost way to gain unfair competitive advantage. Why, for example, should American and Southwest have to compete against an entire field of competitors who (some more than once) have used the bankruptcy process like a washing machine to wipe away the burden of debt and employee obligations? Perhaps the door to the bankruptcy court should henceforth be limited to “first time flyers.”

3. The FAA has been lame in dealing with flight scheduling, the enforcement of safety rules, and the management of its own workforce. Found recently to have been a bit too cozy with Southwest, and perhaps others, they are now engaged in a chest pounding smokescreen that precipitated the recent groundings. Further, by allowing air carriers and airport operators to schedule more flights at peak times than could possibly be handled by an aging infrastructure on a bluebird day, they are as much at fault as the industry itself. This is an agency just begging for privatization.

4. It’s the fares, stupid. Air carriers, most notably the legacy carriers, seem bent on self destruction by  maintaining fare structures which absolutely hose the business traveler while putting leisure travelers on the same planes at fire sale prices. You can be absolutely certain of two things when you board your next flight: No two passengers on your plane paid the same fare, and everyone got a cheaper seat than you did.

5.  The absence of a cogent national energy policy is killing us, and the aviation industry is but a single manifestation of that fact. According to IATA, the price of jet fuel has increased by 69% yr/yr. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some leisure fares out there where the fuel surcharge portion of the ticket fee exceeds the basic fare. One thing each of us can do is to elevate this item from our own consciousness to the national stage, and demand reasonable solutions from those who would ask for our votes.

End of rant… I’ve got a plane to catch.

by Bill, Management, Think About It...

Airline Mergers… a Good Idea? Delta and Northwest.

No Comments 12 February 2008

Delta SignI was recently asked my opinion on the mating dance that is going on between Delta Air Lines and Northwest. More specifically, the question was whether or not I thought the two of them getting married was a good idea. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit up front that, of the major domestic carriers, Delta is my clear favorite, while Northwest is, well, uh… not my favorite, to be very charitable about it.

Airlines are characteristically run by testosterone laden alpha-males who are bent on proving that their thing, ‘er plane is bigger, faster, goes higher, and can stay up longer than the other guy’s. Though airline takeovers are obviously couched as matters of business strategy, one shouldn’t ignore the testosterone thing, not for a minute.

From a purely business standpoint, airlines are a combination of hard assets (planes, parts, equipment), systems (routes, reservation, revenue management, marketng partners, etc.), and people.

In terms of hard assets, especially aircraft, a Delta-Northwest combo doesn’t appear to make much sense. Whereas Delta has a middle-aged, largely Boeing fleet, Northwest operates a lot of Airbus equipment, together with a bunch of rehabbed but prehistoric DC-9’s. Why does it matter? Because the cost of operating, training crews to fly, and keeping spare parts for a fleet of pound puppies doesn’t simplify matters or help competitiveness one bit.

A glimpse at a combined Delta-Northwest route map seems to make a little more sense. There isn’t a lot of domestic overlap, and Northwest’s Asian routes paired with Delta’s strong European and Latin American presence could be a potent competitive offering. Stripping out one of the reservations systems and perhaps a domestic hub (goodbye Memphis?) might save a few bucks. Fuel isn’t going to be any cheaper regardless of whose name is on the door. Purely through the nearsighted eyes of a shareholder, I rate the deal a push, at best.

The reason a DL/NW deal won’t work is the same one that prevents most corporate marriages from working as billed. These are two large organizations with radically different cultures, sets of norms, and value systems. Whereas Northwest’s management and its heavily unionized workforce have been at war for years, Delta enjoys relative peace with its employees. Translation: You might enjoy some lucrative new routes, be able to sell off some of the uncommon equipment models, and wring a little more fat out of the system, but hell will freeze over before these two families fall in love, work harmoniously, and produce a consistent customer experience.

Please Mr. Anderson, don’t do it!

A thought leader in the areas of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, motivated, capably led workforce.

He is being featured this week on The Cranky Middle Manager podcast

For more information about Bill, his partner Richard, and their work, please visit their website at www.ContentedCows.com


Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.


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