Let’s face it - few people and especially precious few business travelers would say they enjoy flying coach. When The Wall Street Journal published an interview this week with CEOs of what were meant to be three of the largest US airlines, it was an opportunity for execs to show off their mass-market product. Two took it: Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian and American’s CEO Doug Parker both folded their tall frames into a standard (no-)legroom seat to discuss their business, customer experience, and their own flying habits while United’s CEO Oscar Munoz was notably missing from the conversation; per the WSJ piece he had declined to be interviewed while seated in his own company’s coach seat.
Whatever the internal reasoning may have been, the optics of this are bad. In consumer-facing industries, senior executives who don’t jump at the opportunity to interact with their company’s products and the people who use them on a regular basis are effectively choosing to put blinders on. United ferried well north of 100 million passengers in 2017 -- and while their balance sheet and operations would look drastically different if all of passengers were able to fly premium, that’s simply not the reality of the economics of air travel.
This begs the question: does a company’s executive team need to be using and championing their company’s products? It’s a strange question to ask any newer brand because that sort of understanding is already built into the brand’s DNA. On the legacy brand side there’s a lot of talk about customer centricity and investment in digital transformation mainly in the context of putting customers first and creating better customer experiences that span both the digital and the physical worlds. All of these efforts will fall flat if the company’s executive team appears to be publicly ashamed of your mass-market product - the one that pays the bills, if not at the highest of profit margins. If the C-suite sets the example that it’s ok not to care about a product why should any employee act differently?