Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Some rules make sense. Some don't. And some rules only make sense when you remove them.
This is the dilemma of many a service industry and certainly of the airline industry. Many airlines become a touch reviled by customers precisely because of rules that seem painfully pointless.
Worse, those rules can be enforced on a somewhat arbitrary basis, such as the rule for not using the restroom when the plane has left the gate or during turbulence. Or the one about not using the restroom in a different class.
Perhaps of all airlines, United became the epitome of rule enforcement. With the emphasis on enforcement. Since that dark day when it dragged a passenger down a plane and bloodied his face, leading to, one suspects, a very generous payout United has tried to be more likable.
It's done good things. Why, it's now going to hold planes for connecting passengers as long as it can.
Its latest rules gambit may be a touch more controversial. You see, as Skift's Brian Sumers reported, United is removing the bag sizers that you so enjoy using -- or being forced to use -- at the gate.
The airline expressed itself with fulsome optimism in an internal memo:
In the event that an oversized bag makes its way from the lobby to the gate, we know that our customer service representatives can apply our Core4 principles and make the best decisions for our customers in the moment.
Should you not have encountered the four principles at the core of United's service ethos, these are Safe, Caring, Efficient and Dependable. Perhaps even in that order.
United took pains to give its employees lessons in compassion. Does this mean you just need to put on a needy face and your friendly Gate Agent will now allow your monstrous backpack onto the plane?
Well, United described this new world to its employees thus:
If a bag is oversized, please gate check to its final destination per the normal process. Of it looks like it fits, let it go. Use your best judgment.
This makes for delicious possibilities. It may be that the Gate Agent will look upon you kindly. It may also be that the Gate Agent isn't having a good day and their judgment will be that you should descend into burning fires. Compassionately, of course.
I have to admire United for its daring. It's putting its faith in its employees to make good decisions. This is, in general, an excellent leadership principle. It allows those employees to feel empowered, rather than be mere vassals of a rulebook. It allows them to feel a little more like customer service people and a little less like police officers.
Sadly, though, both Gate Agents and passengers are human. I foresee debates along the lines of yes-it-is-no-it-isn't echoing around the occasional United gate.
I foresee onlooking passengers joining in the debate, as if this is an strangely unruly edition of Judge Judy.
I foresee the occasional brouhaha in which there might be a need for strict enforcement. Perhaps even law enforcement.
Then again, I want to see how -- or even if -- this works. When the bag sizers were there, I rarely saw them used. More often, I saw United employees going down lines to see who had roller bags. These would then be not allowed on the plane and automatically checked.
Worse, too often I saw passengers who truly mocked the system. They'd try and drag vast volumes of supposed hand luggage on board and complain there wasn't enough overhead space. Or they'd try and move other people's bags so that theirs would have pride of place.
Now, though, how will passengers be told that the rules are being enforced subjectively? That will be an immense challenge for United employees' compassion quotient.
I'll grab extra popcorn in the hope that my next United gate will provide some entertainment.