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


I was at dinner last week with the mom of an eight-month-old.

She'd just come back from a trip with her baby.

"I think there should be baby-only flights," she told me. "I hate having to fly with my baby on a plane, knowing she's likely going to cry and everyone will be looking at me."

Not every mom feels this way, but many do.

Few airplane passengers are delighted when a parent with a baby hops onto the flight and the baby begins to bawl.

It's not because they don't like babies. It's because flying is intrinsically unpleasant these days. A crying baby just makes it 10 percent more unbearable.

Flying is claustrophobic. There simply isn't enough room to move. Very few people, other than traveling high school sports teams, every seem happy on a plane.

So JetBlue came up with a Mother's Day wheeze.

It launched its FlyBabies promotion. Every time a baby cries on a plane, each passenger gets 25 percent off their next JetBlue flight.

If a baby cries four times, everyone has a free flight.

Those of dry countenance (and accountants) will immediately consider that moms might actively encourage their babies to cry.

It will be good for everyone.

Naturally, though, some have railed against this promotion. It only encourages self-centered attitudes, some have reasoned.

I fear those need no encouragement. This is America. Self-centeredness is one of our great enduring strengths.

Perhaps JetBlue realizes this.

Indeed, its spokesman Morgan Johnston insisted his company has only altruistic intentions.

He told the Boston Globe: "We're hoping to inspire that conversation and know that while it may be tough for you to sit next to a crying kid, we hope you can think about the stress that parent is going through. And maybe we can be a little bit more supportive of moms."

Oh, would that airlines were so openly compassionate.

I fear that JetBlue sees a remarkable emotional two-for here.

Those flying on the same plane with a weeping child will at least benefit from their patience.

At the same time, the parent with the child might not feel as bad as many parents do in such circumstances. Baby's crying is making everyone on the plane richer.

As JetBlue's video shows, the promotion turns something very few people can tolerate into a little performance.

They used to call this gamification. 

I fear not many people think of airlines as emotionally intelligent.

I tend to fear people consider them creepy little price-gougers, there to make your every contact with them cost at least $25.

Personally, I tend to think of them as employing far too many people who wish they were doing something else and who are faking it (sometimes badly) because they have no option.

And this is where I see the true depth of Jetblue's emotional intelligence.

Finally, finally an airline has recognized that there's something unpleasant about flying.

After decades of telling us we'll love the way they fly, promising friendly skies and telling us to sit back and relax while while some snotty kid kicks the back of our seat for four hours, they've realized that flying isn't perfect.

Perhaps, then, all airlines can build on JetBlue's valiant attempt at emotional recognition and uplift.

Here are some suggestions.

Every time some large businessman opens his laptop next to you in coach, slaps it on the tray table and proceeds to type for five hours while his elbows repeatedly dig into your ribs, you get a free flight.

Every time someone sits next to you and dons headphones that pump "Uncha-uncha-uncha" into your earlobes ad infinitum, you get a free flight.

Every time someone next to you snores with all the roaring fury of a rabid Great Dane, you get a free flight.

Every time you have all the legroom of a horse in a human coffin, you get a free flight.

Indeed, every time something utterly unreasonable occurs, you should be able to report it to a very friendly member of cabin crew and claim your free flight.

I think JetBlue has started something big.