Too fat to fly?

April 21, 2009 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Weighing The Options: Are You Too Fat To Fly United?We buy meat by the pound, fruit and veggies by the pound. Even nuts by the pound. Now, it looks like we may soon be buying airline seats by the pound.This week, United Airlines announced that overweight passengers who are unable to fit in a single seat, unable to connect the lap belt, or unable to fully put down the armrest between their seat and the one next to them, will politely be deemed “toofat to fly.” In that case, flight attendants will try to find two empty seats. If they can, the portly passenger can move there for no extra charge. If they can’t find two seats together, the passenger may be forced to purchase a second seat, pay to be upgraded, or switch flights all together.

The question now – is the policy discriminatory or just smart marketing? The answer may be a little of both. Whether on a flight, at a sporting event, or at the movies, we’veall had that experience next to someone who took up more than their fare share of space. But now, like Southwest Airlines before them, United is putting their passengers and their bottom line first. If obese passengers decide to fly an airline other than United, that benefits the passengers tired of getting squeezed. And since heavier passengers require more energy to transport, the airline will save on jet fuel as well.

For now, we can all sit back and wait to see what happens. Who knows? Maybe United will inspire a health revolution among fliers. While we’re waiting, somebody hand me that $14 chocolate chunk cookie from first class.

Who’s Driving?
You can predict a lot about a company’s long-term success by taking a close look at who’s in the driver’s seat. Are the engineers in charge? Is operations or finance at the wheel? Are outside forces being allowed to steer? Or, is the company authentically marketing driven?
For General Motors, the answer to that question has long been outside forces and manufacturing. Marketing has always been an afterthought at GM, as it has been for all the domestic carmakers. And, clearly, marketing has been locked in the trunk as GM navigates its way into the dark days of bankruptcy.
The company’s new chief, Fritz Henderson, said Friday that bankruptcy is probable for 101-year-old GM. And while bankruptcy may signal an end in sight for the troubled automaker’s financial woes, it will usher in what will surely be unsolvable marketing problems.
It didn’t have to be this way. If GM had been a marketing-driven company with marketing-minded leadership, its corporate decision path over the last several decades would have looked very different, indeed.
It would have taken the GM brand and the customer covenant it represents a great deal more seriously. A marketing-driven GM would have designed cars differently, built them differently, and certainly would have negotiated with the UAW differently. It might have even sought bold but viable alternatives to unionized labor as many of its U.S.-based Japanese peers have.
But it’s too late for all that now. One is left only to wonder what might have been if GM leaders of years gone by had embraced a marketing-driven vision of the company’s future. One thing is for certain, however. As GM tosses the keys to Washington, its marketing department had better brace for impact.

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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