Oscar Munoz, United Airlines’ CEO, argues that confusion drives passengers to complain about baggage fees. While I tend to agree with his overall point, the optics of insinuating that higher baggage fees improve the flying experience for the average passenger is simply tone deaf.
Speaking to CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Munoz credited ancillary fees from baggage as the source for United’s improved investment in its onboard soft and hard product.
It is important to reinvest in the business. I think it’s one of the things about this industry that people, our customers, don’t always understand. All that money that we’re getting back is being piled back into the business…We pile that money back into the business for the right things. We want to make you, as our customer, feel good about flying us. And so our customer-centricity, our customer properties, are something we really want to sort of engage.
I have no idea what he means in his last sentence, but I do not dismiss his overall point. It is undoubtedly true that United is reinvesting at least a portion of these ancillary fees in the customer experience. Much of this spending may be focused on the premium-side with new Polaris lounges and Polaris business class seats onboard, but United is also in the process of updating its wi-fi systems and now boasts in-seat power on all mainline aircraft. Furthermore, it has invested millions in its hub airports across the country. That does indeed help all passengers.
Even so, I’m not sure there is any way this argument passes the smell test with most passengers. And as unfair as that may be, I would rather make the unbundling argument (“charging for things like checked baggage and meals helps us to offer you cheaper tickets”) coupled with a separate argument that United continues to invest in the passenger experience.
This is a bit of a damned-if-you-don’t, damned-if-you-do situation. Explaining away a sudden increase in checked baggage fees is not easy. But most will not take the time to understand Munoz’s point. Successful argumentation is often not about having the strongest argument, but about succinctly articulating a point that resonates without much thought.
H/T: Jeff Edwards / Flyertalk // image: NBC (fair use exception)