Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Airlines' Per-Bag Fees Create New Baggage

I'm interested in adaptive evolution, i.e., how we humans re-adapt to our world and find the loopholes that get us around the roadblocks thrown in our path. It's a quirk of mine.

So I was drawn to a new Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) survey that finds half of flight attendants have seen items fall out of overhead bins in the last two months. More than 80% of the flight attendants surveyed also report being injured over the last year by items that suddenly fall out of the overhead bins during the flight.

But why is this happening in the first place? Airline passengers, in the face of new airline baggage fees, switched up their strategy. They re-adapted and found a loophole. Instead of checking in their bags, they started bringing them on to the plane and trying to stuff as much as they can into the overhead bins. Now we see the unintended cost of the policy: injured and angry flight attendants.

We humans are great at adaptive evolution, but corporate management isn't great at planning ahead for it. I've blogged about my own experiences watching co-workers adapt to metrics in ways employers don't even realize. In the case of the airlines, they should have seen this one coming before they initiated the new per-bag fees. They should have anticipated how passengers might re-adapt. They didn't do it, and now they have a whole new set of unexpected consequences to manage.

We humans are like mice in a maze realizing that one path to the cheese has been blocked and so we need to find a new path. It's what our animal brains do. That's how we've gotten pretty crafty at sneaking food into the movie theater, driving on the shoulder of the road in a traffic jam, and hauling our creatively-packed luggage on to the plane to avoid a $25 per-bag fee.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA has created a new website, EndCarryonCrunch.org, that encourages people to write to their members of Congress about passing new legislation that curbs excessive carry-on baggage.

Or maybe the airlines can get rid of the extra baggage they've created for themselves by eliminating the per-bag fees. Otherwise, passengers will just keep finding new ways to get around the rules.

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