Start with a Flawed Premise
Not long ago, I was driving my car and listening to the radio and otherwise just thinking pleasant thoughts when Delta came on the air with a message. I gave it a listen. The essence of the message was that I should become a member of Delta's frequent flyer program because I would get all kinds of perks. One of the perks mentioned is that as a member I'll be invited to board airplanes before non-members.
The actual wording went something like this: ". . . and members get to board first so you can get in, get settled and do whatever you want."
Really? Do whatever I want?
When you get on an airplane, what do you want to do? Most people tell me that what they want is for the airplane to do something and that something is to get moving. If you had a couple of extra hours to spare, would you go to the airport, buy a ticket, struggle through security, sit at the gate, wait in line, lug your gear into a steel tube and then suffer through an interminable litany of security warnings just so you could "do whatever you want"?
I think not. I think most people would rather not fly on a commercial airliner and the only reason they do it is because they want something that is more pleasurable than the pain they have to endure to get it. Like conduct business in a faraway destination or visit long-lost relatives or take a well-deserved vacation.
I stopped thinking about Delta and the absurdity of their premise until a few days later when I went to the airport to catch a plane. The trip was going to take a couple of hours and Airtran was offering a business class upgrade for a nominal charge so I took them up on it. After buying a couple of magazines, a bottle of water and several different kinds of mints (I was doing a personal survey to determine which kind I preferred) I sat at the gate and waited my turn. The gate agent announced the boarding procedure as "Business Class and Elite travelers first".
Ah, yes! As a Business Class customer I was being rewarded with the opportunity to get on the airplane before everyone else. I jumped to my feet, grabbed my luggage, magazines, water and mints and headed to the head of the line. Sure enough, I got in the plane ahead of the teeming, sweating crowd of commoners - delivered my carry-on to the storage bin over my seat and then settled in.
Then, I sat there as a cavalcade of people snaked by my seat in an awkward procession. Here I am, sitting and doing whatever I want, while strangers stand next to me, looking down at me and the mints I've chosen for my personal taste test. What are they thinking?
"This guy got on first, got settled and could do whatever he wants and he is sitting there with a magazine and six kinds of mints? What an idiot. He should be writing a novel or planning a party or knitting a sweater or eating a chimichanga."
Except who could do any of those things on an airplane while too-loud announcements are blaring on the intercom and the unkempt masses are staring and judging?
The fact is that business class passengers don't want to get on an airplane first because then they are on an airplane that is not moving for a longer period of time. Their options have become limited - despite Delta's absurd offer of freedom. Business class passengers sit up front because they get a little more room, free drinks, access to overhead bins before everyone else and they get off the airplane first.
All of these could easily be accomplished without also forcing them to get on the plane first. The overhead bins could easily be reserved just as the seats are reserved. Drinks could easily be served at the gate - in an area that is roped off for business class customers. How cool would it be if an airline got everybody else on the plane and then ushered the business class customers on last and then closed the door behind them? Just like they do for the President on Air Force One.
The process of boarding an airplane starts with the false premise that elite customers want to get on first. If the airlines knew what elite customers really wanted they would do the opposite. But, the airlines aren't the only ones operating under a false premise and they aren't the only ones who would benefit from a little brainstorming about the desires of their best customers.
Think about it.