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

United Airlines is trying to be nicer and kinder.

It's hard not to be, the dry might snort, after you've become famous for mistreating a paying passenger, having him dragged down the aisle of a plane and bloodying his face.

Still, though, you have to wonder what being nice and kind really means to United.

The airline's president, Scott Kirby, just explained, in a moving interview to Skift.

In it, he addressed the fact that he's beginning to realize the importance of customer service.

Really.

It can't be seen on a spreadsheet, he said, but when a bad reputation spreads, goodness, your bottom line might be affected.

I fear, though, United's kindness will only go so far. It might also endure two or three stops along the way and require a replacement crew.

You see, Kirby spoke about the airline's new Preferred Economy seats.

These, as I wrote last week, are perfectly ordinary Economy Class seats. They are, though, a little bit nearer the front of the plane.

It used to be that anyone could book them. 

Now, however, the airline will offer them to so-called Corporate Preferred customers -- those whose companies spend a lot of money with United.

If there aren't enough of these exalted corporatists on the flight, the airline will allow the elite-free, unwashed to have them. 

For a fee, that is.

But what about families?, he was asked. The more United charges extra for seemingly every seat on the plane, the harder it'll be for families to sit together.

Kirby offered a painful response:

Look, when you go to a concert, do you think you should pay the same price to sit in the nosebleed seats or to sit up front?

Get thee to the back of the plane, families, and pray.

I worry about Kirby's logic.

When I go to a concert, I'm looking forward to it. When I get on a flight, I fear it'll be a painful experience from beginning to end.

When I go to a concert, I want it to last a long time. When I get on a flight, I want it to end as soon as possible.

Kirby, though, was adamant in his analogy that flying United is akin to watching Taylor Swift live:

I don't know why airlines are unique. Every other business that has something like that charges more for a better product. It's a better product. You know it's a better seat. I don't know why airlines would be unique by offering lower prices for a lesser product. That's what we do.

Oh, but sometimes you make people fly in decrepit old planes. Isn't that a lesser product? So why don't you charge less for it?

Sometimes, the seats are smaller and the legroom tinier. Oddly, you don't seem keen to charge less for that either.

I want to be charitable. Well, more charitable than Kirby.

I'm finding it hard.

It's bad enough that his airline and American Airlines are ripping out seatback screens, so that families are forced to bring a portable device for each member.

The concert analogy, oh, it keeps assaulting my head like a Black Sabbath cover band.

If you truly believe that your flights are like concerts, why do you charge for bags? After all, if I take a bag to a concert, no one asks me to pay extra. 

Of course, the hard-headed business types will insist that Kirby's strategy is understandable. Laudable, even. 

Airlines, after all, are trying to make every last dime out of every last thing that used to be free and it's not as if United is alone in this gouging strategy. Delta loves it too.

I fear, though, that his attitude lurches to a bitter end.

Personally, I'd rather sit at the back of the plane, if the seat next to me is empty, than I would nearer the front with some preferred corporate type typing in my ear and jabbing me with his ugly elbow.

What if I'm lucky enough to have that extra space?

Will the airline charge me post-flight for having secured myself extra comfort? It's become a better seat, hasn't it?

And what if I move to a seat at the back of the plane, because the one next to it is empty? Will trouble ensue?

After all, if I was at a concert and moved to a seat that had no one next to it, I might even get thrown out.

Even now, I fear some ambitious and faintly oily United Airlines executive will suggest this isn't a bad idea.

Published on: Aug 28, 2018