Quickie Post — United vs. Delta, and the Power of Personal Agency

747 Pan Narita

Narita airport in the morning, 2014?

One of the more interesting contrasts in how promoting independent agency can save everyone money and increase performance just popped up in the last couple of days.  United Airlines, in a viral public incident, yanked a seated passenger off a plane, in full view of a range of iPhones and Galaxies, in order to fly another United crew to a waiting plane.  After not receiving any volunteers, and increasing the price of refunds/ticket vouchers, they hit some arbitrary ceiling in their pricing ($800) and instead decided to go the ‘forced eviction’ route.  The various videos and such are contained in this Esquire article here.  Calling in the po-po and having someone alleging to be a doctor flying home to see patients yanked out of his seat and dragged off the plane screaming (I haven’t seen the official confirmation of the fact that he was a doctor, but it’s still a great story) is about as Authoritarian v-Meme as you can get.

And now United is paying a price in stock price loss, as well as future market revenue loss.  I have some choice when I fly, and I rarely, if ever, fly United.  They’re a last-choice carrier for me, and nothing that happened yesterday will change that.

What’s interesting is that Delta has managed, through a more Performance v-Meme-based approach that emphasizes personal agency, to create a system creating the least numbers of kerfuffles for the chronic problem of over-booking.  When Delta approaches an overbooking situation, they announce early, and have customers bid what they would take for getting bumped off the flight.  It’s a little manipulative, to be sure, because passengers are bidding against each other, and can’t know what other passengers are also bidding.  But it does do a good job of popping people out of their limbic brains through a form of ‘priming’ — and that’s not all bad.  If you bid, you were obviously someone who thought they could miss that flight, and at least had time to activate a little Kahneman System 2 thinking, engaging that pre-frontal cortex, instead of just wallowing around in the amygdala.  Details about Delta’s system are here in this National Public Radio piece. 

Much better than selecting people, already seated, at random. Two cops approach you in an airplane seat, you’re going to get down into that Survival v-Meme pretty quickly.  There will be blood — especially, for me, if I’m already seated in an exit row!

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