Can you remember when flying was fun? I almost sorta can – I think that it was back when I was 10 years old and flying was something that was a special treat – I didn’t get to do it very often because it was very expensive. My how things have changed! Now I fly all the time and I pretty much hate it – the hassles, the delays, etc. Sure seems like a great opportunity for a product manger to step in and do something to make flying a better experience…
Airline Budgets – Where’s All The Money Been Going?
In the past few years, airlines have complained about fuel prices and fewer fliers. Even when faced with problems like this, running an airline is a big business. Since there are so many different airlines, there is a lot of competition between them. That’s why it’s surprising when you find out where airlines have been spending their money.
Airlines have traditionally invested in back-office products to handle tasks that customers never see like reservations and ticket pricing. Sure this makes the business run better, but we’ve seen what it does to the customer experience.
Airlines are only now starting to boost their spending in the development of products that are customer facing. This is where product managers are going to have a chance to shine.
The Problem With Bags
So my question to you is do you check bags when you fly? I desperately try not to – I’ll attempt to squeeze everything that I need for a 5-day trip into a single carry-on bag that still (pretty much) meets the carry-one size restrictions. Why all the effort you ask? Simple – I’m afraid that the airline will lose my luggage if I have to check it.
It turns out that missing or lost bags cost airlines almost $3B in 2008. Sure seems like an issue calling out for a product manager’s touch.
Kiosks have been popping up in airports as an effort to streamline the check-in process and print boarding passes for passengers. It now seems as though some enterprising product manager has realized that these kiosks might be able to do double-duty and help with the luggage issue. The thought is that passengers will soon be able to trace their checked baggage at self-service airport kiosks.
You can well imagine what this will do for the customer experience: you are waiting for your bags to come off of the delivery system and they never do. After everyone else has claimed their bags, you go to a kiosk, scan the bar codes on your luggage tags and learn the exact location of your bags – in other words discover that your bags are on their way to South Dakota.
In the end, this will allow you to report missing bags in less than 2 minutes instead of the average of 45 minutes that it takes to report missing bags to an agent today. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but let me tell you when you are mad at the airline, the quicker they can get a solution to you, the quicker you’ll cool off.
The airline industry is in bad shape these days. It just might take product manager to pull them out of it. If product mangers can create products that take the hassle out of flying then customers will flock to that airline.
The ability to quickly locate your lost luggage is one way to do this. There are other innovative changes being discussed such as having the airlines offering new wireless services such as notifications of flight status and delays via text messages. Of course the holy grail of all of this is the ability to to send encoded boarding passes directly to cell phones in order to completely eliminate paper.
If product mangers can find ways to make flying fun once again, then they will have have found yet another way that great product managers make their product(s) fantastically successful.
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Jeff Vance over at Sandstorm Media talked with me to get some inputs for an article that he was writing for the Project Manager Planet site. Yeah, yeah – I know that we’re Product Mangers not Project Managers. However, Jeff did a very good job of capturing a lot of what makes our job so hard to do.