Why Businesses Need to Stop Rewarding Bad Behavior

luggagePeople respond to incentives, whether positive or negative. The more experienced people are, the more they figure out the systems, and the more use them to their advantage.

So it is with a sense of sadness that we acknowledge Alaska Airlines for joining the ranks of airlines that punish their loyal customers who are doing the right thing.

Alaska’s policy is that the first checked bag costs $20. Okay, not free like Southwest but also not $35 like some others. Many people checked their bag.

Others decide to retain their luggage because they don’t want to spend the $20, and they hope there will be room on the overhead bins. The frantic quest for overhead bin space begins. If they can board early enough, they can occupy this space.

But wait! During boarding at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, Alaska Airlines said they wanted people check bags because the flight was full.

Before anyone boards, Alaska Airlines announced their offer to gate check your bag for free, AND you get to board first, bypassing the crowd of now unhappy (and $20 poorer) passengers waiting to board. Huh?

What is the message? Yup, delay the plane, make those people who paid $20 wait for you, save yourself some cash, and board first.

This lesson was not lost on the groups of people standing around me.

No wonder that in 2011 airlines collected $3.4 billion in checked bag fees. In 2012 that number dropped to $2.6 billion. A pretty expensive mistake illustrating why you should not reward behavior that you do not want repeated.

I’d love to say that I am going to gate check in the future, but I just cannot bear to be part of the problem, much as I loathe rewarding this practice.

Dear Alaska Airlines, please call me. I’d love to help.

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