If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the age of social media, it’s that you should fact-check stuff before you write about them. From the Airbnb owner that wouldn’t allow vaccinated guests, to the thousands of people that pass long online travel hoaxes (like these), there’s a plethora of stuff out there that just isn’t true, waiting for the next naive person to believe it.
So when I saw this meme the other day, I took it with a grain of salt:
“When travellers started complaining about how long they had to wait for their luggage at the Houston airport, the airport moved the arrival gate farther away so that the walk to baggage claim was longer than the wait. Complaints dropped to nearly zero after that.”
I decided to do some investigating.
My first stop was, of course, Snopes. As of this writing, a search for HOUSTON LUGGAGE doesn’t show any hits. So it was never covered in Snopes. ThatsNonsense hadn’t covered it either.
So then I went to Google. A search for HOUSTON WAIT COMPLAINT LUGGAGE garnered nearly 800,000 hits.
- Reddit had a huge discussion about it in 2012. They linked to something in the New York Times, and most of the replies in the Reddit thread were about corporate changes each writer had observed or were a part of.
- Keynote speaker Stephen Shapiro also linked to the New York Times article in 2012, as part of a post about problem-solving and the perception of pain (psychological pain, not physical pain).
- In 2015, AlertTech, a hardware, software, and product design company, used the story as a way to show there are different ways to solve a problem, one of which is by distracting customers.
- The Guardian paraphrased the Houston story in 2018 (and it sounded as if they were referring to the NY Times post as well), as a means to discuss how to beat bottlenecks.
I couldn’t find anything about the topic that was posted before 2012, so I had to assume that when the Houston airport change originally happened, it either wasn’t considered newsworthy, or they simply didn’t want people to realize what was being done. So it was kept relatively quiet. Which meant it was the New York Times that “broke the story,” albeit years later.
When the New York Times piece was published back on August 18, 2012, it wasn’t even a story per se – it was the introduction of an opinion piece that was mainly about how people hate to wait; the author, Alex Stone, used the Houston Airport story as a prime example. Here’s how he described it:
SOME years ago, executives at a Houston airport faced a troubling customer-relations issue. Passengers were lodging an inordinate number of complaints about the long waits at baggage claim. In response, the executives increased the number of baggage handlers working that shift. The plan worked: the average wait fell to eight minutes, well within industry benchmarks. But the complaints persisted.
Puzzled, the airport executives undertook a more careful, on-site analysis. They found that it took passengers a minute to walk from their arrival gates to baggage claim and seven more minutes to get their bags. Roughly 88 percent of their time, in other words, was spent standing around waiting for their bags.
So the airport decided on a new approach: instead of reducing wait times, it moved the arrival gates away from the main terminal and routed bags to the outermost carousel. Passengers now had to walk six times longer to get their bags. Complaints dropped to near zero.
Joe and I have flown through both of Houston’s airports, but never into either. So we’ve never had the pleasure 😉 of waiting a long time at the airport in question for our luggage to come, or walking a long time to get to baggage claim. If you have, please speak up!
Assuming the story is true (and I don’t doubt that it is – why would make up something so specific?), I think the executives at whichever Houston airport it was, be it Bush Intercontinental Airport or William P. Hobby Airport, were geniuses to figure that out.
Sneaky, sneaky geniuses.
I do wonder if they started getting complaints about the long walk, though… 😉
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary