Never a group to shy away from a public thrashing, Congress has weighed in on the bad customer service provided by United and other airlines.  But, like most things from Congress, their threats amount to nothing more than continued posturing and bloviating.  You can’t legislate (or executive order) improved customer service.

“If changes aren’t made by the next hearing, I can assure you, you won’t like the outcome,” said Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.). “If we act, it’s going to be one-size-fits-all.”

“We all know it’s a terrible experience,” said Representative Michael Capuano, a Democrat from Massachusetts, throwing his arms in the air in frustration. “Some charge fees for baggage, some charge fees for oxygen, who knows?”

[Sigh] Surely, service is bad.  United’s recent passenger blood-letting and American’s foray into baby-stroller mismanagement are only the most recent public examples.

However, it would be wise to temper our reactions to the hubbub. The only thing that will act as a lever to address poor customer experiences is the free market.  Customers must vote with their wallets and defect from poor performers to those with better performance.

No doubt CEOs themselves had an unpleasant experience in front of the House of Representatives.  While they were waiting for the public spectacle to subside, here’s what they were thinking…

  • Are restitution payments less than the money we make from overbooking?
  • If I stop the policy of overbooking will my competitors have an advantage and gain passengers at my expense?
  • What is the credible threat if we don’t get better?
  • How could Congress ever enforce such threats?
  • How price-conscious are consumers?

Some CEOs likely see the customer experience fiasco as a true problem.  But what they won’t be able to see is how to improve service without increasing costs and decreasing operating margins.  So, that will be the end of any internal debates.

The pivot point is that only by changing their preferred airline can customers make airlines pay.

On their own, airlines have little to no incentive to change and Congress is impotent.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… where is the Commander in Chief’s inevitable tweet about how [insert negative adjective here] everything is and how he’ll save the world?  Don’t know, but keep your eyes open, we should be hearing from him soon.  This from a man who has likely never flown coach class.

You Can’t Legislate Customer Service