Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders


Airline bumping, Scandinavian style

Posted on April 27, 2006 by daviding

Since I have the luxury of travelling to see many countries and different cultures, I often get amused by the small differences that reflect the alternative ways of seeing the world. This story is about a minor event in the Copenhagen airport.

I was flying from Munich to Helsinki via Copenhagen. The Copenhagen airport is attractive with lots of natural wood finishes. It seems quite compact between gates, and connections seem relatively well-organized. I noted a long line queuing up for the Helsinki to Copenhagen flight, and was relaxed to join the end of the line.

A man in an airline uniform was walking down the queue, and stopped by a young man — most probably a student, by his dress and demeanour. The airline attendant said that the flight was quite overbooked, and asked if the young man would be interested in waiting for a guaranteed seat on the next flight with a choice of 75 Euros cash or 200 Euros in flight coupons. The young man chose the former, and was then asked to step out of the line, and wait by the side. This conversation took just a minute, and queue moved on.

In comparison, how would this happen in most American airports? Typically, the airline attendant gets on the public address system and makes an announcement looking for volunteers for a similar offer. Responses by passengers go one of two ways: those who really want to stay on the flight get tense because they’ll want to make sure they have enough seat and baggage space, while those who might consider taking up the offer think about whether they should rush to the counter or not. In either case, although the American style might be judged as “fairer”, it probably introduces more stress to a larger number of travellers than is necessary.

Could airlines in the United States be convinced to change their style of behaviour? Maybe or maybe not. This could be one of those predispositions towards culture practices — like standing on the right side of an escalator to allow the hurried to pass on the left1 — that people don’t really think much about, until it gets mentioned to them.


1This example comes from Charles Spinosa, Fernando Flores and Hubert L. Dreyfus, Disclosing New Worlds, MIT Press, 1999. 

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