When It Comes to Fees, Is Turnabout Fair Play?

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I loved this column by Mitch Albom about the ever-increasing ubiquity of airline fees—charges for everything from checking a bag to not checking a bag to getting anything other than the middle seat by the bathrooms. His big idea? What if we, the customers, could charge the airlines a fee every time they fail to deliver what we have paid for?

He says, "I would like to propose a new set of fees. Ones the airlines pay to us. These are fair. They are across the board. And just as the airlines are always telling customers that fees are optional, as long as you don't do certain things (i.e., bring luggage, eat or sit anywhere but the last row, middle seat), my fees are optional, too. Deliver what you should deliver, airlines, and there will be no charge.

"On the other hand, if you want to continue certain practices, you gotta dig into those pockets."

And he goes on to propose airlines paying customers when there's no space in the overhead bin, or when the plane is late to the gate, or when they lose a bag. And so on. It got me to thinking about a world in which companies were held financially responsible for holding up their end of the bargain. If a hotel had to not just find a place to put your bumped VIPs, but also pay a bump fee of, say, $100 a head. If the WiFi in the ballroom is spotty, rendering your fabulous meeting app useless and your attendees cranky, you got a flat fee and each person who couldn't hold a connection got an inconvenience fee. Ten bucks per loud squeal of feedback, $15 for each time the mic cuts out, and $20 for every time an attendee has to wait more than five minutes for the elevator.

But before we get too far into the fantasy, take it the next step. What if you had to cough up $10 for every attendee who had to spend more than five minutes in the registration line, or $100 (at least) to the attendee who, despite having disclosed a severe allergy to seafood, almost bit into a shrimp hidden in his lunch salad? Overcrowded session room? $10 per turned-away person. Bad signage? That'll be $5 per wrong turn per person. And so on. We'd all be so busy feeing and fining each other that all semblance of civility and human kindness would just fly out the window, making the world more of a tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye kind of place than it already is.

I propose we go the other way. Instead of looking at each other as unending sources of potential income enhancement, we could be forgiving of small inconveniences. Instead of focusing on squeezing every buck out of every interaction, we focus on squeezing every drop of joy, fun, learning, and understanding. There's not much we can do to keep hotels and airlines from jacking up people at every opportunity, but let's not join that particular rat race. Revenge fantasies aside, I vote that we all stay all-inclusive in our attitudes, and our meetings.

(Thanks to my friend Tamara for the pointer to Albom's column!)

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