This Dreamliner is a nightmare

Picture the following scenario:

Airlinesteve You're squeezed in the middle seat of jam-packed United 757 about to leave Newark en route to Las Vegas. Flight attendants are yelling at passengers to pass their oversized luggage forward since it won't fit in the overhead bins, the aroma of Big Macs and pizza slices permeates the cabin and, oh yes, there's a screaming, sneezing baby seated directly behind you.

All of a sudden, a flight attendant directs everyone's attention to the video screen for an important announcement. And, there, bedecked in a European suit, white shirt and red necktie is United's CEO. And, boy is he ever happy!

That's because the CEO is standing in front of a brand, spanking new Boeing Dreamliner 777. 'This is aviation's future,' he begins. 'It's the very best airship ever built. Period. And, United's just purchased 50 of these beauties because we believe in providing the very best for you.'

Accompanied by radiant flight attendants, dapper pilots and squeaky clean mechanics, the United team takes us on a quick tour of the 777 and boasts about such amenities as:

- Composite materials: 'That means flying faster and further while burning less fuel' (Meanwhile, we're still stuck at the gate because of a computer glitch).
- Special cabin lighting: 'Designed to optimize your viewing pleasure while minimizing stress' (This while the sun's rays are blasting through the tiny 757 windows and blinding my entire row).
- Oversized windows: 'To give you an even better view of the many gorgeous cities to which we fly worldwide' (The only thing I can see outside our micro port hole is another parked plane).

When the video ends, the Second Battle of Manassas picks up where it left off, with flight attendants battling passengers, and vice versa. It's enough to make a certain blogger absolutely appalled by what's he's just experienced.

The Futures of Entertainment Peppercomm sponsored in November at MIT focused on two fundamental rules for connecting with the audience in our social media-driven world that United's video violated:

1.) United was blinded by its shiny new object. The company was so psyched about telling the world about the Dreamliner that they gave absolutely no thought to how it might affect passengers jammed into the current generation of junk that masquerades as state-of-the-art. By showing me how much I was missing by NOT being on a Dreamliner, United exacerbated my miserable 757 experience. And, they prompted an outcome they'd probably never imagined: a scathingly negative blog.

2.) Balancing the onslaught of Big Data with qualitative insights. I guarantee United's crack marketing people relied on reams of market research telling them that lots and lots of business travelers would be sitting on Flight 1051 to Vegas. And, they were right. But, had ANYONE in marketing, PR or customer care taken the time to place themselves in their passengers' shoes and experience the Dreamliner video while stuck inside the Dante's Inferno that was my Boeing 757, the video never would have seen the light of day.

For more on these two issues, see Spreadable Media, the new book from my colleague (and Futures of Entertainment conference organizer) Sam Ford.

My Dreamliner nightmare is standard operating procedure among far too many Fortune 500 corporations. A sequestered corner office sifts through market research, figures out the right venues to introduce their shiny, new object but NEVER takes the time to first understand the experience from the customer's viewpoint. They opt for quantity over quality.

If it were up to me, I'd ground the Dreamliner video ASAP. I'd also suggest the CEO and his top marketing team get their butts out of their cushy office chairs and squeezed into, say, seat 8E on Flight 1051. I guarantee they'll come away with a greater understanding of how best to engage with passengers in this brave new world of ours. I bet they'll also come away with lower back pain, headaches and stiff joints.

16 thoughts on “This Dreamliner is a nightmare

  1. Middle seat nightmare. BTW, it’s a 787. And the reason I know that is because of the recent spate of bad news about that plane, from fuel leaks to electrical fires. I’ll take the 757, thank you.

  2. That picture really does speak a thousand words. You have my sincere condolences for your middle seat incarceration.
    Having said that, the middle seat on a Dreamliner will probably suck just as much.

  3. I never understood why Jeff Smisek agrees (or insists) to be in those darn videos. I mean, it’s great to know that a CEO cares about his/her customers, but does that mean we need to see their mug on every single piece of collateral? Virgin did it right with their opening video, at least they get some laughs out of people.

  4. Do you really think so, Carl? Even with all the composite metals, mood lighting and extra large windows? I hear Dreamliners will even offer mute buttons for passengers seated in front of screaming kids.

  5. If Dreamliners have that mute button then Boeing needs to rebrand it. Something like Utopialiner might work.

  6. You will understand why @middle_seat is my Twitter handle when you also know that I am Platinum on United. I didn’t enjoy the video either.

  7. Steve, could you imagine the impact if you could get United’s CEO to fly coach during the holidays or CES incognito? He’d probably end up drinking an entire bottle of duty-free Scotch, abusing his fellow passengers, and having to be bound to his seat with adhesive tape. “Fly the friendly skies…”

  8. Spot on, KensViews. That’s the problem with far too many CEOs. They never experience their brand from the customer’s POV.

  9. And let’s not forget that “United Breaks Guitars.” I’ll bet you that their CEO travels by private jet and never takes a commuter flight. He he done so, he wouldn’t have insisted on starring in that insensitive video. And I’ll also bet you that none of the company’s PR team was consulted on this decision.

  10. Excellent point, Julie. This is most likely yet another indicator that, while our PR trades boast that we’ve attained a seat at the C-Suite table, the real world is full of examples that prove otherwise.