On Fear of Flying, Terrorism, American Biz & LISTS (962 words)
by Denny Hatch
I took the train to Chicago and back for the DMA Conference. No, I am not afraid to fly. This is certainly the safest time to fly -- probably in my lifetime. Security is at an all time high and 20 percent less planes are in the sky, which means the air traffic controllers are really in control. No, I opted for the train for two reasons: time and self-esteem.
Let's start with time. Given the current panic and paranoia, if you are advised to be at the airport three hours in advance, arrive at the wrong time and you stand in lines for two to three hours. Hit it right and you find yourself sitting around a waiting room for two or three hours. Flying, these days, is a lousy way to travel. On the train, I got two full days of uninterrupted work on my laptop, read and climbed in between clean sheets in a berth where I was rocked to sleep like a baby. Center city Philly to Center City Chicago. No expensive taxi rides and times getting to and from airports. The train was my hotel room for two nights, so I actually saved money.
The second reason I decided to take the train goes a bit deeper into my psyche. The secret of direct marketing -- indeed of success in all businesses -- is lists. A salesman without his list of customers, an insurance broker without his list of insureds, a car dealership without its list of buyers -- all would be out of business. The United States does not really want Osama bin Laden; we want his lists of worldwide terrorists, Saudi contributors, bankers, arms dealers, money changers and miscellaneous thugs, thieves, weasels and operatives that make al Qaeda viable.
And, frankly, the airlines have a list problem.
I have been flying for over a half century and the airlines do not know me from Mohammed Atta. After 50 years of flying -- and having paid the airlines hundreds of thousands of dollars over that period -- I should be greeted with, "Mr. Hatch, how nice to see you again," just as a I am at Primavera, Monte Carlo, Django, Overtures, the Union League and the other Philadelphia watering holes I frequent. Instead, I -- and everyone waiting in those endless lines at the airport -- are treated like potential terrorists, scowled at and patted down by screeners on minimum wage, many of whom themselves may well have criminal records.
What would it take for the airlines to woo me back to the skies on a regular basis? How about an E-Z Passenger Card?
My wife, Peggy, and I have E-Z Pass, that wonderful little box affixed to our windshield behind the rear view mirror that allows us to zip through toll plazas while the majority waits to pay cash. It is a marvel of convenience that driving from Washington, D.C. to Buffalo a delight.
Why not let E-Z Pass be the model for an E-Z Passenger Card?
Here is how it could work. Peggy and I will pay $500 to $1,000 each for a federally licensed investigator to check us out. That gumshoe will be invited into our house to meet our dog and cat, examine our lifestyle, look at my art collection, go through my CDs, books and videocassettes, spend time on our computers (or download the entire hard drive, for that matter) to discover that we are not into scams, embezzlement, kiddie porn or offshore gambling. Our bank accounts, Fidelity retirement portfolios and tax returns would be opened for inspection, as would our personal and business address books, with permission granted to interview anyone in our past and present (including my ex-wives if they could be found). On leaving the house, the investigator would take our pictures -- as well as fingerprints and a retina scan if that is part of the deal. Once the investigation is complete, a Federal Express package would arrive with our E-Z Passenger Cards that would probably look like the new military ID with photograph, CV, magnetic stripe, etc.
Every airline would then have an E-Z Passenger counter, just as they have First and Business Class counters. I would hand the agent my ticket and E-Z Passenger card. "Thank you for flying with us today, Mr. Hatch," would be the friendly greeting as my card was being swiped through a computer terminal. On the screen would be my picture which matches that on my E-Z Passenger Card. Perhaps I would be asked for thumb print or iris scan. O.K. Once the bags were checked and the tickets processed, I would proceed to the X-ray screening station reserved fir E-Z Passenger cardholders, enabling me to bypass the seemingly endless lines of other flyers. The screener welcomes me as my E-Z Passenger card is swiped through the computer and my photograph appears on the screen. I am treated with civility and efficiency. Minutes later, I would be in the airline lounge sipping a martini and watching CNN while the lines below creep forward in their exhausting dance of "hurry up and wait."
The E-Z Passenger program offers the airlines an opportunity to differentiate their good customers from Mohammed Atta and treat us accordingly -- and at no cost to them.
In short, I am willing to spend money so that I can buy time and feel special once again.
I have thrown down the gauntlet. Are the mediocrities that run the government and the airlines smart enough to pick it up?
I doubt it.
Denny Hatch is a Consulting Editor to Target Marketing magazine. He can be reached at Denny Hatch Associates, Inc. P.O. Box 63578, Philadelphia, PA 19147; tel. 215-627-9103; fax: 215-627-6610; firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.methodmarketing.com.