Thursday, February 18

The Flying Experience

All this hoopla with Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines made me realize something. I hate to fly. Not because I'm afraid of flying, but because it has become an awful experience.

When I first starting working at Johnson & Johnson, I used to fly for business on a somewhat regular basis. It was fun. I traveled with colleagues, we would stay at nice hotels, do a great dinner, and really get to know each other. I don't want to say it was glamorous, but it was fun. The experience helped to build working relationships that have lasted to this day.

Flying was an adventure, and I don't think it was just because I was young. The airline brands meant something. American Airlines. Delta. These were BRANDS that had equity and meaning and a promise for their consumers.

Not anymore. The entire process is terrible. From reserving to ticketing to security to boarding to deplaning. It's terrible. Not to mention the in-air part where the seats are tiny, there's no food, and most people (including the flight attendants, sorry) are just rude. When we fly for business it's become less about team building and more about just getting through it.

There is no positive consumer experience, no attempt to satisfy, and hence no real loyalty -- no brands. The brands are GONE.

Southwest Airlines has been a bit of an exception. I even wrote about it in my upcoming marketing book, "The Experience Effect". Southwest is still trying to be a brand that stands for something, and it still TRIES to provide a positive experience. But you can tell that they are starting to struggle too, in a very difficult industry. Continental tries too.

Now this latest tryst with Kevin Smith is not necessarily the focus of my post here, and it's certainly not helping the Southwest brand. Since I wasn't there I'm not really going to comment on it -- you can read about it here if you'd like:

But it did make me realize that the flying experience is gone. The companies that participate in the industry have lost their marketing and for the most part have lost their branding, and it's a shame.

What's your experience? Jim


  1. I hear you on all respects, I did enjoy flying and traveling at one time. Now it is just something to get through. However, I find myself very excited to fly on Virgin airlines in April. Just the different lighting in the cabin alone has my interest peaked, not to mention RED the interactive entertainment system. I think Virgin is another airline that is still trying very hard to brand themselves.

  2. At its essence, at least for me, taking a flight is still a little magical. I mean, you’re FLYING. And at about 500 miles per hour in a gleaming tube of aluminum alloy only a ¼ to ½ inch thick. There is still something pretty cool and space-age about that. The problem is, as you point out, all the horrendous customer service and ergonomics-on-the-cheap completely overwhelm any delight and wonder. Until the airlines fix those basic operational, structural issues, any new branding efforts will ring hollow.

  3. Your post strikes such a cord -- gone are the days when flying felt like an adventure. Forget when commercial flight was new and people dressed for the experience, now it's an unpleasant process you endure, and people share tips on how to get through, or at least tolerate it. I realized the other day that I have no idea what happened to all the loyalty program cards (Delta, United, etc..,) I used to have -- more because there are no brands to be loyal to than because I don't fly as often.