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

I tend to think of the big four U.S. airlines as something of a cheery cartel.

After all, they own more than 80 percent of all the seats on planes. 

And they don't often compete on the same routes. 

Occasionally, though, they're tempted to offer a little tweak toward each other, just to make it look at least a little like WWE. 

An example were remarks made by Delta Air Lines president Glen Hauenstein on last week's second quarter earnings call.

Their flavor was captured by View From The Wing's Gary Leff.

Hauenstein was asked whether the way that other airlines -- which would surely mean American and United --  had chosen to treat their passengers with their version of Basic Economy class -- aka Sub-Cattle Class -- had helped Delta.

It's rarely mentioned, but Delta was the first to introduce these (supposedly) cheap fares.

They prevent you from upgrading, you're last to board, you can't change your ticket and you get the worst seat at the last minute. 

But they're (supposedly) cheaper.

American and United copied the idea, but took things a step further.

They prevented passengers from carrying on anything larger than a bag that fits under the seat in front.

Which, stunningly, annoyed passengers.

Especially those who hadn't read the restrictions carefully. Why, if they were caught trying to sneak a normal-sized bag on, the penalty fee was $50.

Hauenstein said that Delta's more customer-friendly approach to Basic Economy was "certainly a contributing factor" to the airline's greater relative success against American and United.

Perhaps it doesn't take an economist to deduce that if one airline is offering a better product for the same price, then customers would choose the better product.

When they actually have a choice, that is.

Some might sniff, however, that Delta's stance shows it has a slightly greater awareness of the benefits of customer service than do its rivals.

Why, just a couple of weeks ago, the airline announced it wasn't going to stuff as many seats as possible into its Boeing 777-200 planes. Instead, it was going to make seats wider. Yes, in Economy Class.

When you treat people well, they may just become loyal to you. When you treat people like a mere number, they may not.

I asked American and United for their view. American declined to comment. United didn't immediately respond.

I fear, though, that at least American may now agree with Hauenstein's thoughts. 

Strong rumors have it that the airline will change its Basic Economy carry-on policy very soon.

Because it isn't just customers who don't like it. Flight Attendants don't want to be members of the Bag Police, given all the other tasks they're being asked to perform.

These Basic Economy fares were created in the hope that passengers -- especially corporate passengers -- will have such a distaste for Basic Economy that they'll pay more for good, old regular Economy.

Still, Delta seems to believe that even those who fly in the very cheapest seats might deserve to be treated with a sliver of dignity.

Which is odd, but faintly uplifting.

Published on: Jul 15, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.