air travel

Jet Airways // On the Run

I'm embarrassed to write this. Our flight back to the US from China was booked on Jet Airways, an Indian carrier I'd never heard of. When I found that out, I immediately called American to see if they could change it to one of their own flights. I thought of all the stories I've heard from well-traveled friends in remote far-reaching areas, so the images in my head were of a dirty, poorly kept plane with livestock running about. Okay, maybe not the livestock, but you get the picture. (Although, I do have a friend who flew in Russia in the 90's and there were chickens on her flight, so I'm not totally making this up.) I'd love to think I'm more open-minded than that, but that was my initial reaction. American couldn't switch us, so here I am, sitting in new-looking plane, in the nicest business class I've ever seen. After offering a glass of Dom Perignon, and a pair of pajamas (did I mention I'm in business, not first class), the flight attendant comes down with the magazine cart packed full of enough interesting material that I could fly back to China and still have magazines left over. I mean, there's actually too much space, and the crew, service, and food are first rate. Much nicer than anything American offers. So there's that.

If I had gotten my way, I would have had the same flight experience I'm used to, which is good, but not great. I wasn't open-minded enough to make it happen on my own, so fate stepped in to teach me not to judge a book by its cover, or rather, an airline by its country of origin. While American does score points for having such a good partner, on my next flight to the East I'll definitely be trying to get a seat on JET Airways.

See, American is just good enough to keep me coming back (which is a lot more than I can say for some of its competitors), but only because there isn't usually another viable option. That works for them most of the time because their industry is generally in trouble. But what happens when someone new comes along and makes a superior offering? What about your brand? Are you getting by with "good enough," or are you finding ways to deliver something special?

LAX Magazine // Don't Believe the Hype

Let me be the first to go on record and say air travel sucks. My week spent in Europe last month taught me that air travel doesn’t actually have to suck. I visited five European airports that were nice, clean, and interesting. More importantly, they worked. The people there were friendly. And they were faster and more efficient than anything I’ve seen in the states.

Schiphol is one of the best. Among other things (like, I don’t know, the meditation centre, hotel, Nike store), the airport offers membership in a premium club. Independent of the airlines, you can buy your way into elite-level service from the airport itself. I’ve long wondered why they don’t do that here.

An airport is essentially a mall: They lease the space out to tenants, but are ultimately responsible for the experience their patrons have. The airline business has been messed up for over a decade, so why haven’t airlines figured out that they can take some ownership and make things better for themselves, their tenants, and us?

Oh, my point: LAX. The experience at LAX is generally terrible. Their big idea to set things right: let’s publish a magazine! I imagine the thinking went a little something like this:

- We’re hurting for money because the air travel business is in trouble

- We have a captive audience, of relatively well-off consumers

- Let’s make a magazine for people to read on-site, and then we’ll make money from ads

Here’s what’s wrong with this:

1. People don’t like the LAX brand; they don’t want to read your magazine

2. Travelers have access to huge bookstores with magazine racks, inside every airport, plus free magazines on the plane. Plus iPods and tons of other stuff to do while you wait. So you’re not fulfilling a need.

3. Although it does occupy people’s time, it doesn’t fix any of the problems that people have with traveling. Where’s the value proposition?

What they should do:

- Retrain TSA and the traffic cops out front that their jobs are to provide service, not be tyrants

- Work with your tenants to get flights in and out on time. Enforce penalties for late flights.

- Enough with Brookstone and Chili’s To Go! We’re in Los Angeles, which happens to have some of the best dining and shopping in the world. Get some good local stores and entertainment in there.

- Make extra money by inviting brands to engage your captive audience, who now might actually enjoy being there. But make them provide value to your customers. Free stuff in exchange for surveys or product demos at the gates.