Planes, Banks and Stupid Fees

I’m late. I know.

OK, so last post asked why the airline industry has been able to get away with fees on just about everything but Bank of America wasn’t able to pull off a five dollar monthly usage fee on debit cards. Well, I figure there are four reasons: options, necessity, anger and commitment. More than one of those reasons explain a lot of the way the airline industry works the way it does.

First reason: Options. Pretty much every airline has added pretty much the same fees. Baggage fees were first, then charges for snacks and drinks, charges for not notifying that you’re bringing a carry-on, charges for seat selection, so on and so on. The airlines that don’t have as many fees are smaller than the major carriers and don’t fly everywhere. That means you don’t have options. Pay the fee or go on a road trip.

Second reason: Necessity. You don’t have to fly, but you do need a bank. That means more mad people. Simple math.

Third reason (maybe most obvious): Anger. People are mad at banks. Multi-billion dollar bailouts will do that. In BoA’s case, the animosity is exacerbated by layoff announcements and foreclosure increases. Airlines didn’t get those same bailouts. Now, one might argue that people’s anger at big banks couldn’t have gotten any worse than it already was (a similar argument is grounds for defense in libel cases), but there’s just no limit to some people’s anger, especially in a down economy.

Fourth reason: Loyalty. Frequent flyer programs be damned – there is little loyalty in air travel. If there were, sites like Expedia and Travelocity wouldn’t exist. Hell, there isn’t even loyalty to travel sites. If there were, Kayak wouldn’t exist. People want to fly cheap and choosing an airline for a specific trip has but a short commitment. Next time you fly, you’re welcome to switch airlines with no extra work. Banks require more commitment, especially for those of us who have direct deposit. Switching is much more labor intensive.

The way I see it, that fourth reason explains a little about how airlines behave. This isn’t based on in-depth research, but my opinion of airline customer service has gone way down. I imagine many would agree. Well, if loyalty is at such a low, why go the extra mile?

Next post: I explain ways to make air commuters happier.

Veterans Day ’11

Last time I posted something about Veterans Day was in 2009 and I was behind on posting an entry about a different topic. More of the same this year.

I’ve had the privilege to take part in two Veterans Day ceremonies this year. Today I got to speak to a group of folks in town about my experiences since I joined the Army. On Wednesday, I got to hear a retired major general give a speech at a local base. Our speeches could not have been more different.

Like I said two years ago, saying “Happy Veterans Day” doesn’t cut it. What’s happy about it? It’s a day of remembrance and thanks, not celebration. It also isn’t a day to talk about the U.S. being the best country in the world, or to defend our involvement in wars, or to talk about politics, like my esteemed fellow veteran did in his speech earlier this week.

It’s called Veterans Day, folks. Veterans Day. Not OIF/OEF Day, not America day – Veterans Day. Today we honor the people who signed up – for whatever reason – to serve in uniform. Remember to do that today. Forget the primaries, forget the exit strategies, forget the companies that will try to use patriotism as a marketing tool all day; just remember to thank a veteran and shake his or her hand.

One day, Nov. 11 will return to its original meaning: a day to celebrate peace. Until then, remember that the reason you sleep well at night is because an elite group of men and women is willing to forgo the ease of civilian life to fight on your behalf. You may not agree with the justifications behind the fight, but sometimes neither do we. That’s part of the sacrifice and that’s part of what makes it such a special group.

Also, go Tar Heels!

Bank of America – Duh!

Bank of America announced today that, “in response to customer feedback and the changing competitive marketplace, Bank of America no longer intends to implement a debit usage fee.”

That got me thinking two things: First of which, could BoA not have predicted what the customer feedback would be back in September when it announced the debit card usage fee?

I just don’t know where to go. Are BoA executives living in such a Versailles-like separation from reality that they thought customers would be kosher with a new fee to access their own money? If this decision were run by the senior director of of corporate communication (making the assumption that said person were competent at his/her job), he or she would most certainly have gone ballistic in trying to prevent the fee from being implemented. Of course, any competent senior manager in communication could have seen how stakeholders like the media, the general public, the government, other regulatory agencies and your own customers react to news of fees after the bank received a corporate bailout and announced 30,000 layoffs.


A quick look at the Bank of America list of corporate officers shows that BoA’s director of corporate communication isn’t on the senior management team.

And there’s the rub.

Another organization that shows a disregard not only for the importance of seeing public relations as a management function takes an action to protect its bottom line without looking at the effects it would have on its most important stakeholders — those that keep the organization in business.

I’m not a genius, but I’d bet my car and my very cute and well behaved dog that, even with the announced repeal of the fee, BoA still sees a precipitous decline in its customer base and its already tarnished corporate reputation.

I’ll address the second question that came to mind tomorrow: Why is it that BoA couldn’t pull off this small five dollar fee when airlines have been able to pull off fees for everything from baggage to potato chips?