Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It all happened within 16 hours in New York.

On Thursday evening, I watched as Robert Isom, president of American Airlines, cheerily expounded at the Skift Global Forum on how the airline is modernizing its fleet.

The following morning, I saw Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian admitting that his airline's fleet is much older. It does, however, run on time.

Delta, he said, canceled far fewer flights than other airlines. Last Tuesday, when Delta suffered a computer outage, it still only canceled a couple of flights and allegedly beat its rivals.

But that wasn't the most startling element of Bastian's chat with Skift's Brian Sumers.

Indeed, I was so bleary-eared that I couldn't believe what he said next.

"We're going to make it free," I thought he said.

Airlines don't make anything free these days. They now charge passengers for all the things that used to be free.

But no, I'd heard him right. He really was talking about free Wi-Fi. Yes, on planes. Well, Delta planes.

"I don't know of anywhere else, besides in an airplane, that you can't get free Wi-Fi," he explained.

Oh, some hotels use the devious resort fee mechanism to gouge customers for Wi-Fi. Indeed, I just stayed in a New York hotel that slapped on $30 a night for the privilege of Wi-Fi and, well, lukewarm shower water. Oh, and the room was permanently dark. 

Of course, Bastian didn't say when free Wi-Fi might come to Delta planes.

The mere fact, however, that he believes it's something the airline should offer offered a macabre contrast with Isom and American.

You see, Isom explained that American was giving customers what they want. This might come as news to passengers who want, say, more legroom.

For Isom, however, larger overhead bins, power ports, and satellite Wi-Fi are the three things that customers crave, so American is increasingly providing them.

He was asked, therefore, whether the airline would offer the Wi-Fi customers crave for free.

"We have no plans to do that," he said.

And there, sadly, is your contrast.

One airline believes it can make money by being customer-focused, even if some parts of its service don't in themselves generate instant revenue.

The other, well, let's use Isom's own words on Thursday: "We're finding ways to offer customers a product we can make a margin on."

Well, quite.

Published on: Sep 30, 2018