I visited several good friends this past weekend in DC, and we considered whether consumers have become desensitized toward product dissatisfaction. My favorite example is how I now expect delays when I fly Northwest. In the past two months, I’ve flown Northwest three times, and I’ve faced sizeable delays on each trip. Allow me to vent.
On the first trip, I awoke at 5AM, faced three delays, a cancelled flight, and arrived in Newark over ten hours late. On the second trip, I sat on the tarmac for over an hour while maintenance came to try to fix two of the bathrooms aboard. The flight attendant was forced to announce (mid-flight) that we could “tinkle” in the front bathrooms, but we were not supposed to go number-two. On my third flight (last night), my first flight was delayed about two hours. My plane landed at our gate to let us board, but the pilots informed the desk staff that they had run out of hours, so all of us would have to leave this morning. I arrived in Madison early this afternoon, nineteen hours after I set out from DC.
I was not enraged like the other passengers in the waiting area. I’ve become so jaded toward Northwest, that I just considered it an irritating inconvenience. Being flexible while traveling is good. Yet, from an objective perspective, it is unreasonable to expect failure to arrive anywhere near on time as I now do. An airplane ticket is a service that should function like any other service or product.
This cynical view of products has spread throughout the consumer culture. Over the weekend, my friends and I were impressed with how long another friend’s iPod had lasted without breaking—about two and a half years. Another friend was backing up her computer because she expected it to die any day now—it’s five years old. Sure, electronics are tough to manufacture because they’re complicated. However, I would argue that my parents owned the same television and VCR for over fifteen years. And that our Apple IIc still worked until we got rid of it two years ago. Does that mean the electronics of the early 1980s were better made? More durable? You could say that a 1983 TV was simple in comparison to today’s HDTVs. You’re right, except as the technology of electronics has improved, shouldn’t the technology of the machines that build the electronics have improved as well? The answer is—it’s all a scam by the companies. A scam that consumers don’t care enough about to stop.
Companies make shoddy products. When the poorly made products break, consumers just go out and replace them. It seems like products are breaking more often these days, but since I’m only in my early twenties I cannot really verify that. If products are breaking more often now, why aren’t we calling the companies on it? Why are we okay with products that suck?
The media is starting to report on the deluge of delayed flights in the past few months, but I’m not seeing any real action against the company of Northwest. Instead, people are just booking longer layovers so they can catch the next plane. Unless we consumers demand that extra flight crews should be on call and extra planes should be supplied to airports to be flown as replacements for delays of over an hour, airline policies will stay the same. And you’re going to be stuck in the Minneapolis airport overnight. Oh, that’s not economically feasible you say? Well, a friend of mine recently flew on a delayed United plane that caused her to miss her connection. When she checked her voicemail after the flight, United had called her with three flights she could take to make it to her destination only slightly delayed. That’s a step in the right direction. Take note Northwest—I’m through with you for the time being.