How to Make a Consumer Revolution: A New Quest

There has been some more discussion over at Big Fat Blog regarding the New York Times article about yet another lawsuit against Southwest Airlines.

This has got me thinking about how one goes about creating a consumer campaign to get an industry or, at least, some of the players in an industry to change their policies and accommodate diversity.

I am going to be doing some research and serious thinking about this topic over the next few weeks and will share some of what I find with the blog. This is the big nut to crack with The Ample Traveler© project.

I think it begins with WIFM: "What's in It For Me?"

I've given a lot of thought time to the above question from the point of view of persons who are stigmatized. We are looking for a free market that accommodates us through accessibility and respect. We deserve this. I've given a lot of thought time to the above question from the point of view of the travel, tourist and hospitality industry. They are looking for market expansion in a world where travel has become more complicated and more restricted. Accommodating difference is an opportunity to distinguish one's business from others. This is especially true when taking the universal design approach because it is possible to accommodate difference without alienating traditional customer bases.

Commercial enterprises, which frequently do not follow this formula because of social forces like stigma, often give lip service to profit motivation. When confronted with the costs of stigmatization, some of them will actually become convinced that it is better for their bottom line to ignore social stigma and cater to stigmatized populations. History bears this out as women, African Americans, Latinos and homosexuals have found economic power as consumers in the past 40 years. It simply becomes more important to think of these groups as customers than it does to think of them as less than human.

We have spending power, especially when we organize that power. But organizing that power is the problem. There is a great deal of demands on our power and we often feel powerless in the wake of those demands.

So I have returned to the WIFM concept and asked, "Is there anyone else who would benefit from the travel, tourism and hospitality industry accommodating diversity?" I believe there are other economic interests that would do so. For example, there are companies that manufacture assistive devices. The more accessible places that exist, the easier it is to use their devices. There are companies that do retrofitting and designing of buildings and interiors. These companies want to encourage the improvement and design of spaces. It would be in their best interest for industires to focus on these activities.

So how do we find these bedfellows and get them to climb inside?

Ah, that is the question that I will be considering as I examine how to make a consumer revolution.

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.


Anonymous said...

Maybe it is just me, but I have no problem buying an second seat or paying for first class. Yes, I can afford to do so, but speaking as an entrepreneur it only seems fair. Airlines make their money by selling seats, giving away one for free or taking out seats means less revenue for them. Sure, I don't like paying more and I think it would be great if the airlines would put in bigger seats, I think everyone would, fat or skinny, but I think it is foolish to think that they could do so without it costing them money. They key to being successful at doing this is showing them that they can do it profitably.

What I have seen outside of the US is something in-between coach and business class, just slightly wider seats and a few little perks like a meal or free alcohol.

Here is what I think needs to be done:

1. Figure out what to us would be reasonable size accommodations. I am going to have to explain this a little bit...

I say this as BHM, 5'10", 350 pounds, there are limits to what can reasonably be accommodated on an airline and still have it be affordable for the traveler and profitable for the airline. There has to be a compromise. So, first we need to figure out the dimensions of a airline seat that would accommodate the vast majority of us.

Then we need to do a study (This is something that NAAFA should do, it's the kind of thing that I pay my dues for)looking at how much more people would be willing to pay for a seat (fat or skinny)of these dimensions with an added perk or two like a meal, free headset for the movie, etc, and how often they would be willing to pay for such comfort.

Then we need to sit down with these numbers and figure out the point in between on how many seats could be replaced with this new higher class of service without cutting into the airline's profits.

Instead of just complaining about the situation, we need hard numbers that we can bring to the airlines and say "Here is how you can accommodate us and still maintain a profit". They are a business, and if we can make a well reasoned argument with hard numbers to back us up that they can do this (Which I am sure they can) and not hurt their already hurting bottom line, there is no way they can say no.

Pattie said...

First, Anon, congrats on being our first blogger comment here at ample ramblings -- you made my day!:D

Actually, I do not have a problem paying for an extra seat either.

I have a problem with being told I have to pay for an extra seat and then not being guaranteed that those two seats are going to be next to each other (ala Southwest Airlines, which does not put seats on their boarding passes).

I also have a problem with paying for a second seat, only to have an arm sitting squarely in my back. If I'm paying extra, then I'd like to have some guarantee of comfort.

However, I think there are all sorts of reasons that someone might want to purchase more room on a flight (maybe you are carrying an animal, or you want to buckle in a child, but don't want to purchase a full seat for them, or you have a guitar or cello you want next to you buckled in). The point is that the current "one-size-fits-all" fails the customer service test for more than fat or tall passengers.

So I think you are on the right track in calling for consumer information to convince the industry that it would be profitable to accommodate us (and others who want space).

I think we also need to consider a new design in seating. The bucket seat approach is a paradigm that should be broken.

In other places I have suggested a kind of bench seating where the dividers between passengers could be adjusted. I could see a pricing system whereby one purchases so much of such a bench -- so if you want to travel with your guitar, you might purchase the whole bench. If you take up half the bench, then you purchase half the bench and so forth. As long as anyone who purchases the percentage of the bench along the same guidelines (in other words, no stigma penalty for fat or tall people), then it seems fair to require those requiring more space to pay for that space, for whatever reason they want the space.

Thanks, Anon, for stopping by Ample Ramblings and for a very thoughtful comment.

Anonymous said...

Well, the root of the problem is the seats are designed around (along with their profit models) measurement averages of people that are no longer accurate. Bucket seats are more comfortable for people IF (the key is if) they are based around proper dimensions of the person sitting in it. I was complaining to a really thin (actually disturbingly thin, I'm pretty sure she is anorexic, so sad that todays society does that to people) about how uncomfortable airline seats are and she was saying how she finds them pretty comfortable and "cozy". Keep in mind that she is a stick, but she actually says that first class seats are too big (I know, I hate her too ;-) ) and that she feels enveloped by them.

I wish people would let the Southwest issue die. Is what they are doing "fair"? No, of course not, but life isn't fair. Their model is based on standardization, the same seats, the same plane, and yes, the same sized passenger. It is though this standardization that they are so profitable and right now and enough people fit their standard that they can afford to ignore the needs of those outside of it. Will they be able to in the future, perhaps not, but I do understand that if they feel they can ignore a (growing) market segment and maintain their growth and profit, there is little incentive for them to make changes. Instead of complaining, we need to vote with our wallets and just refuse to fly with them. Making a big fuss IMHO doesn't help our cause. Eventually when enough people make that decision, they will be forced to make changes, that is how free markets work.

They key is to find an airline that isn't doing as well (I think American Airlines is a really good choice considering their More Room campaign that their new marking campaign focused on knowing their customers so well) and sell them on the idea as a way to increase profits.

    Help Us Make Room

    Help Us Make Room
    ***** Email Pattie ***** User-Friendly Housing (click on image to email)

    Mission Statement

    We are devoted to promoting affordable, accessible housing in Las Vegas that meets the particular needs of tenants, owners and investors with diligence, sensitivity and integrity.

    We are devoted to promoting universal accessibility in the Las Vegas so that people will be welcomed as residents and visitors no matter what their background, age, ability or size and to advocate for those who are excluded intentionally or otherwise.

    We are devoted to showing Las Vegas that welcoming all persons is in tune with the spirit of accommodations and is a sound way to expand the local market by creating a loyal client base that will increase long-term sales and profits. Accommodating diversity is good business.

    We are devoted to promoting global good will by promoting the free movement of all people. Las Vegas is America's playground and, maybe even, the world's playground. We are devoted to make Las Vegas a showplace of universal design, accessibility, and inclusion. Las Vegas is a place built on the concept of freedom and freedom of movement is one of the ultimate freedoms. We can think of no better place on earth to promote inclusion than our beautiful city. We hope you will join us in making Las Vegas a place for everyone.

    Find Me on Facebook