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Service Levels Go Up, Not Down, in Hostility

A market in overcapacity is hostile. Surprisingly, in a hostile market service levels to customers go up, not down. (See “Video #36: Probable Priorities for Innovation in Hostile Markets” on The airline industry is an example. The airline industry has been hostile virtually from the day it was deregulated in 1978 until today. During that time, the industry has made great strides in reducing its costs and increasing its service levels at the same time.

Here are some interesting statistics that bear out this contention. These statistics compare the airline industry in 1969 to that of 2009. In 1969, 172 million passengers flew U.S. Airlines. By 2009, that number had grown to 770 million. In 1969, there were 5.4 million flights. By 2009, the flight numbers had risen to 10.1 million. Service levels, as measured by number of flights and number of passengers, clearly have risen over the last forty years. During that time, safety clearly improved. Fatal accidents per 100,000 departures were 1.3 in 1969 and .1 by 2009. Pricing dropped as well, because costs dropped. In 2009, it cost a passenger 14 cents to fly one mile. The comparable number in 1969, using 2009 dollars, was 34 cents. Today you can get to more places faster by airliner than you could in 1969. Service levels have risen.

Naturally, those of us who fly would complain that service levels in terms of comfort have fallen drastically. Meals used to be free and there used to be ample space for knees and luggage. Those days seem to have passed...or have they?

The airlines have learned time and again that customers will not pay for onboard meals and more leg room. However, those customers who are willing to pay for more comfort can fly in economy plus or business class or first class. The prices for these services today are much lower than they were several years ago. So no matter how you slice it, service levels have risen in the industry when you look at the service levels for which customers are willing to pay.

The same holds true in every hostile industry. (See “Video #37: Performance Innovation Tradeoffs in Hostility” on

Posted 9/13/10


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