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

United Airlines has been trying.

From an abject nadir a couple of years ago, when one of its customers ended up with a bloody face and considerable financial settlement, United has insisted it's learned lessons.

It's tried to persuade its employees to be more friendly. Actually, it's allowed them to be more friendly.

This doesn't mean United's customers have stopped complaining.

Recently, I talked to a United Million Miler who was enraged about delays, not being able to get upgrades and several other apparently annoying elements.

What, though, do United's customers complain about most?

The airline's enterprising, but not always empathetic president, Scott Kirby, offered a revealing answer to the San Francisco Chronicle's Chris McGinnis

Poor WiFi is the number one complaint from our frequent travelers and it's definitely something we want to get fixed.

And there you were thinking that customer service would be the most irritating part of flying.

For me, I confess, the worst is airlines shoveling more and more seats onto planes, so they can make more money.

United, though, isn't exactly innocent. It, too, is removing seatback screens, reducing legroom and decorating its planes with tiny toilets and very thin seats.

For Kirby, though, it's customers' own fault that United now has 10 seats across a Boeing 777 in Economy Class. He said: 

Quite simply it costs us the same to fly a 777 across the Atlantic with 10 or 9 abreast. You have find what people care about and what they are willing to pay for. If you have only 9 abreast, you'd have to charge everyone 11 percent more to break even. So are people willing to pay an extra $110 on a $1000 transatlantic fare to sit in a row with one less seat? The answer is unequivocally no.

It's tantalizing, isn't it? 

Kirby apparently has data showing that you, dear, customer, don't mind being squished to within an inch of a lung.

He insists, indeed, that most of the world's airlines agree with him and fly 777's with 10 seats across.

But then there's Delta.

Last July, it issued a startling announcement. It was headlined: "Delta emphasizes customer comfort."

The airline had decided that no, it wouldn't shove 10 seats across its Boeing 777-200 planes.

Even more startling was the fact that it was going to make those Economy Class seats wider.

Could it be that Delta's customers are prepared to pay a little more for greater comfort?

Could it also be a general sense of superior customer service allows Delta to introduce all kinds of touches that enhance human experience and encourage loyalty?

It's an enticing thought, isn't it?

Published on: Apr 7, 2019