I first noticed Continental Airline’s eliteAccess service when a gate attendant stepped in front of a [apparently] 2nd class customer, placed a barrier across the entry point, and asked them to step around the carpet to enter General Boarding with the commoners.  Not such a magical impression for the customers.

Since I spend a lot of time thinking about customer service these questions leapt to mind:

  • What value do 1st class customers really derive from the carpet?
  • Which airline started this?
  • And why would the competition follow suit?

I see how the program is good for the carpet manufacturers.  But for Delta and United… I don’t see it.  One of these carriers started the program and the others followed.  Free drinks, roomier seats with extra legroom… I get these.  But did 1st class flyers really flock to the airline with the carpet?

The pivot point is to focus on meaningful (i.e. drives loyalty and profit) ways to differentiate on service that are difficult for competitors to replicate.  By providing a small and meaningless benefit, the airlines are just applying lipstick to an already poor experience.  Continental’s money would have been better invested in customer service training so attendants would stop acting like bouncers.

What did you notice about the airlines’ customer loyalty programs when you traveled this Thanksgiving?

Carpet Ride not so Magical
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