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Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
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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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  1. Carmen

    This happened to me on a United flight. I had the same takeaway. Thanks for sharing your experience. Xx

  2. Melanie Smithson

    We see this issue in so many situations, including holding up a workshop or lecture until the late folks have arrived. We are promoting a lack of integrity everywhere. Kinda painful.

  3. Sharon O'Day

    Mary, this fits in with the scenario where all the people who only purchased homes they could afford continued to make mortgage payments as others got handouts from the government ,often (granted, not always) because they took out no-income-verification mortgages … and lied. The behavior is pervasive in a country I’m having a hard time recognizing any longer. We went from acting in integrity … to being punished for good behavior … to being rewarded for bad behavior. What’s next?

  4. Sandi Coryell

    People do notice but often get caught in the bind you mention. If you start becoming part of the problem, you’re hurting your fellow customers more than you are the business. Eventually it will catch up with them.


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