“Tog” wrote an article on subjective time, comparing my favorite punching bag American Airlines to Jet Blue. I couldn’t agree more with the suckiness of the experience on American and how slick it is that JetBlue does it better.
The amazing thing is that JetBlue does it better without charging more. If they weren’t just as cheap or cheaper, all their better experience would probably still result in a business failure. For some reason most of us are psychotically price sensitive when it comes to airline travel. For example, it would be awesome if Expedia provided a nice search engine that did some sophisticated scoring of flights based on my airline preferences (Jetblue = +5, Alaska = +2, Southwest = +1, American Airlines = -10), fit to my travel schedule, total time for the flight, on-time percentage and other similar factors. They may even have such a feature, but I bet no one uses it, instead pretty much just going straight for the “sort by lowest price” view. (to be fair, Expedia does appear to have a nice interface now that shows best non-stop fare, 1 stop, etc, so they do make it easy to pay a little extra to avoid changing planes as much- it looks like this has improved quite a bit since I last saw it).
How does the airline industry get out of this trap? I’d love it if there were some better choices in air-travel. For example a quick search shows that a flight from Seattle to London this fall would run about $800-$900. I’m a fairly big guy so being crammed into the usual economy seat for that long is pretty miserable, but going up to business class jacks it up to a minimum of $3500.
Imagine instead that an airline could offer an all business (or at least JetBlue class of service) for $1500 or even better $1300. For an international flight I’d jump at that in a second. I don’t need the full cushy business class, but an Enconomy Plus or whatever would be great. But as best as I can tell this option pretty much doesn’t exist- too many people just can’t see paying an extra $500-$700 for an extra 12 hours of comfort and I fear that airline would be a failure.
Its similar to the cilemma faced by photographer that takes pictures of your kids (or you skiing or rafting). I feel like Hillel is asking for them to charge a fixed $30 or $50 to take the photo and hand over the high-resolution image files. In practice, that is what I bought at Snowbird and will do for some of the rafting pictures. Then if I want an 8×10″ its $1.50 at Costco, not $20. But I suspect the business model is not that easy. I suspect the number of parents that would fork over $30 just for an emailed file are realitively low since you then quickly start thinking about the $0 COGS to the photographer and the value of the situation starts feeling weak. Is the professional photo really that much better than the one I can take myself? What am I really getting here?
Its interesting to note that the business model here is changing first in the situations where you can’t really take the photo yourself. I can’t snap a photo myself of that big hit on the river. Its also much harder for me to take some good skiing photos, although I think I’ve done alright. So those guys are more easily able to take your picture with no obligation and then they can hold the great “moment” hostage for the $30.
Its quite possible that some segments of these photographers will just die out. With the advances of modern digital cameras its just too easy to take your own good photos at your kids ballet or theater performance or soccer game. In a similar fashion I hope that the traditional airline system dies out in favor of the JetBlue style approach. Again, its one of those situations where the system has built up so many walls around itself that they have locked themselves into a model that is almost impossible to evolve from within. It takes the outside forces led initially by Southwest and perfected by JetBlue to undercut and rebuild the industry in a new way.