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

When it comes to the airline business, customers can be very accepting.

This is partly because more than 80 percent of all U.S. airline seats are owned by just four companies.

It's also because there's relatively little choice on many routes, and airlines seem to follow one another like pachyderms on a trek.

Still, Southwest has managed to create a niche as the people's airline. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines is generally regarded as having the most efficient organization and the best customer service.

What does it mean, though, when you set yourself up as a consumer brand? You have to look carefully at every single contact you have with your customer. Delta, for example, thought very hard and decided to go against the trend and insert more seatback TVs in its planes, rather than rip them all out -- as United and American are doing.

Now, it's contemplating an even more radical idea: changing change fees.

Yes, that $200 you have pay every time you want to change a flight. That $200 for a few clicks that you perform yourself.

As Delta CEO Ed Bastian explained in a recent interview with USA Today:

When you say that you want to be seen as a trusted consumer brand, it calls into question all interactions with customers and where there are vulnerabilities to being considered trusted. When you ask that question, "Where are those vulnerabilities?" clearly fees are one of the factors that we get dinged on. ... So it comes back to us to think about: Are there better ways to manage that?

Some airlines believe change fees are a vital part of their business. American Airlines' embattled CEO Doug Parker once insisted that he'd rather not offer non-refundable fares than allow flight changes to be made for free.

For Bastian, however, it's a matter of your relationship with your customer: 

How do you, with change fees or other fees that you have in the process, how do you turn them into something that people can understand more, why they're there, and maybe provide greater value alongside it, or change the structure?

Good intentions don't always lead to wonderful actions. The mere thought, however, that Delta realizes how much customers dislike these fees (surprise!) and wants to change that feeling is surely uplifting for the airline's customers.

Of course, Southwest doesn't impose change fees -- other than the difference in the ticket prices -- yet it is currently under pressure to make more money.

If you claim to be customer-focused, it's not wise to put obstacles in the way of your relationship with your customers. Don't gouge, don't nickel-and-dime. It really annoys people.

Instead, make your passengers feel they get true value and want to recommend your service to friends.

It's called creating loyalty. There's precious little of that around these days.

Published on: Feb 9, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.