This is a story about big airlines and families with little kids. If you like it, you'll enjoy my twin e-books How to Raise Successful Kids and Flying Business Class (about lessons for all businesses from the big airlines).
Because traveling with kids is great. But children and airports sometimes mix about as well as orange juice and toothpaste.
If you're a parent, I'll bet you've been there: the wondrous wandering, the extra luggage, the waiting in lines, the dirty looks from other travelers.
(Everyone says they love kids, until your kids get in their way.)
Overall? The added stress. It's another one of those factors that makes me say: Know what? If it's less than eight hours by car, we'll drive instead.
And this is coming from a dad who really doesn't like to drive.
I don't have a magic solution, but I want to point to an airline that is at least addressing the problem in some fashion. That would be American Airlines, which is today rolling out a new test feature called Five Star Essentials.
The offering is this: For $149, a traveling group including "up to two adults and three children or pets" can get a bit of extra assistance in the airport, including:
- Being greeted at priority check-in, and offered assistance in "checking in for flights, selecting seats, and checking baggage."
- Being accompanied through priority screening, plus assistance "to ensure luggage and personal belongings stay together and organized."
- Finally, being "escorted through the airport and to their gate."
Like a lot of things in life, the details will make the difference here, and I have some questions. I've asked the American Airlines media department for clarifications, and I'll update them here if I hear back.
I also simply looked through the airline's website (no luck) and called the American Airlines reservation line.
But then, the A.I. interface voice said my call would be answered by a human being in an estimated 25 to 35 minutes. Spending that amount of time on hold, which would be time away from my family, seemed like it would undermine the premise of this entire article.
That's OK, however, because the point here isn't so much whether you should fly on American, but whether there's an opportunity to look at what it's doing and find inspiration for your business.
And I see at least two potential sources of inspiration.
The first is to ask whether there is a pain point that a significant subset of your customers might feel, and that you can address without undermining your other offerings.
Let's look at it this way. I don't think the $149 surcharge would be worth it for my family now. But when my daughter was 2 years old or so, and the mountain of luggage and equipment we had to haul through airports was truly daunting, it would have been tempting.
Imagine a cross-country direct flight, for which you might easily have paid $750 to $1,000 each way for three passengers. Would eliminating stress in the airport be worth a 15 percent surcharge or so? I think it would be.
The second inspirational idea is to consider whether there's an added opportunity you can create for employees, without adding to your costs.
Let's assume in this case, very generously, that the average family spends three hours at the airport between showing up at check-in and departure.
I don't know how American Airlines plans to staff these escort positions. But, even if you were to split the difference, budgeting 50 percent of the $149 gross to whatever airline employee picks up extra hours by escorting families through the airport, it would be a nice, "win-win-win" situation for everyone.
While conceding that I don't know if my time assumptions are correct, I might think about dropping the price to $99, and giving 75 or 80 percent to the employee.
Anyway, this is why I say smaller businesses should follow the airlines -- meaning pay attention to them, not necessarily imitate them.
They're publicly traded, commodity businesses, and they're in intense competition with one another, forever tweaking their models in small ways to find advantages.
In this case, you don't have to have small children to appreciate the case study, and you don't even have to fly very often. You just need to pay a little bit of attention, and learn from their successes and mistakes.