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COMPLAINT: Virgin Atlantic: Extortion, hearing loss, and Chinese water torture!

 
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  #1  
Old Jan 2, 2011, 6:10 PM
chrisgagne chrisgagne is offline
 
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On Dec 11 '10, I traveled on VA 024 from LAX to LHR. At the checkin counter, I was advised that my laptop/camera equipment bag was too heavy (17kg vs 7kg) to carry on board. (The bag wasn't large, just heavy, as it's filled with metal and glass,) I offered to place half the contents into another small carry-on pack (creating a 10kg and 7kg bag) but was advised that this was still 3kg too heavy. I asked if it would be sufficient to place the item on the floor in front of me (maybe this was too heavy for the overhead bins), and they declined as the combined weight of me and the equipment would still be "too heavy."

I advised that I am ~155lbs and had a checkin bag weighing only 15kg - there was simply no excuse for their position as I could have easily weighed 250lbs and checked in much heavier items. No dice.

They refused to accept responsibility for any of the equipment were it to be checked in (total value ~$17,000).

Ultimately I was told that I would not be permitted to check-in intending to have items as carry-ons unless I paid $454 to upgrade to "premium economy." I caved and paid as I had no other alternatives. Once past the check-in counter, nobody from either the TSA or the flight crew seemed to have any issue with my bag, premium economy or not.

During the flight, I plugged in my headphones into the internal PA system and set the volume to a comfortable 5-10% (they they're fairly sensitive). I enjoyed an inflight movie and listened to some music. Later in the flight, the pilot came on the PA system. Unfortunately VA's system was defective and played the announcement at an absolutely ear-splitting volume-- I guess it didn't respect the volume setting. In agony, I had to quickly pull the headphones out of my ear and suffered ear pain and ringing for quite some time after the flight. Ringing without pain is alone indicative of permanent hearing damage. The flight and ground crews were unsympathetic.

(As a side note, the VA website indicates that it costs 50GBP to receive an exit row seat from LAX to LHR. The check-in counter at LAX was charging 120GBP. Seriously guys? $200 for an exit row seat?)

On the return trip, I made a plea to to the LHR transfer desk (Daniel and Kim) who were sympathetic to my experiences thus far with VA and exhaustion and provided me with an exit row seat free of charge. This is probably the only thing VA did right.

When I got on the plane I was the only person sitting in the 2-seat exit row and thought I would succeed in getting some much needed sleep. Unfortunately, I was dripped on for most of the flight and was told by the flight attendant that it was simply condensation. I was aware it is simply condensation (and thankfully not jet fuel...) but an offer to relocate to a different seat or simply a towel would have been greatly appreciated.

I appreciate that airlines have policies that may be mandated by law or help smooth the business operations. I have a difficult time believing that the failure to provide a small allowance on carry-on item weight was due to legal requirements as they seemed perfectly happy to allow me to carry the items on if I paid for "premium" economy. Further, while I appreciate company policy, I am disappointed when employees are unable to do the right thing and choose to apply company policies as strictly as possible (excepting, of course, when laws and safety are at issue). Good companies treat and train their employees well, encouraging them to make the right decision when it comes to the overall lifetime value of a customer, even if it means a slight shift in the application of policy. More succinctly: don't let policies get in the way of correct customer service.

So, VA, in my best British accent and with all due respect: "**** you." I'm forwarding this story to everyone I know.

Last edited by chrisgagne; Jan 2, 2011 at 6:12 PM.
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  #2  
Old Jan 2, 2011, 6:51 PM
bilingual bilingual is offline
 
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Perhaps you should read the regulations regarding carry on baggage? - it can not come as a surprise for you, that you are not allowed to bring 17kg carry on, most airlines only allow 10kg. I do not understand why you think that VA should flex the rules, just because you choose to bring expensive equipment with you.

If you have suffered hearing loss, you should have no problems in getting a medical receipt as a proof against VA, but i guess that is not the issue?

Your complaint is ridiculous and i would rather travel with VA if they are so strict in enforcing the carry-on policy, as so many people bring too much baggage, so there is no space available for the rest of us.
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  #3  
Old Jan 2, 2011, 7:29 PM
chrisgagne chrisgagne is offline
 
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Bilingual, the only explanation for your reply is that you're an ambulance-chasing trial lawyer who saw my thread title and was disappointed that it did not, in fact, deliver a recoverable action for you to feast upon. Why else would you spend time on these forums over the holidays to post similarly-helpful retorts for several complainants on a variety of carriers? Hmm? Did I nail it?

It's not a matter of space. As I mentioned earlier, the bag was small but dense. It would have easily fit under the seat in front of me, and it was smaller than most of the bags I brought on. In fact, I had no complaints from every other carrier I flew with in the last few weeks, from South African Air, Botswana Air, Aegean Air, and a small Botswanan carrier. I flew in everything from jumbo jets to 24-passenger prop planes to a bloody Cessna and not one person complained or commented. In fact, the only reason why VA even had reason to mention something about my bag is the fact that they weighed each and every carry-on prior to the check-in line (presumably in an attempt to recover fuel costs?). I'm aware of airlines checking bag size occasionally and I agree that this is reasonable given the limited carry-on luggage space (though it's never happened to me), but in all my years I've never encountered an airline that weighed every carry-on at check in.

Finally, I could have easily put the stuff into two bags; 10kg and 7kg, easily meeting the 1 carry-on item plus one backpack, purse, laptop conditions. And if you tell me that the 10kg bag was 3kg too much and that the $454 penalty was well-deserved (as did the VA ground crew), well buddy, you really need to find a new hobby besides kicking other people when they're down.

And if you're a trial lawyer, please die a sad, lonely death from a heart attack in the rain on a sidewalk, passed on by every on-looker who is too afraid to help you for fear of getting sued in this litigious society you and your blood-sucking ilk helped to create.
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  #4  
Old Jan 3, 2011, 1:43 AM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
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Let's start here... I think some of these rules are petty and designed to increase revenues and for no other reason.

But, you did not pay a $454 "penalty" for being 3kg overweight on your hand luggage. You were given three options.

1. Fly without the equipment
2. Check it in
3. Upgrade to a higher class of service, which offers a more generous baggage allowance.

You selected the latter. For that you got a wider seat, more leg room and space and a more generous baggage allowance. You chose that service to fit your circumstances and you got the whole service. It is ridiculous to reduce it down to "I paid $454 for 3kg"... AND it is nonsense.

By now you were irritated... did you really file a complaint with the flight and ground crews that the Captain's announcement was too loud in your earphones? Have you perhaps got a bit too much time on your hands?

Last edited by jimworcs; Jan 3, 2011 at 1:48 AM.
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  #5  
Old Jan 3, 2011, 6:00 AM
chrisgagne chrisgagne is offline
 
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Jim,

Yes, those were my three choices.

#1: Would you call your partner to come back 30 minutes later to pick up your laptop and cell phone (or whatever else you really care about when you travel) in advance of a 3 week trip? Would you feel happy in this situation for want of three kilos?

#2: Would you check in your laptop and your wedding rings on a flight to New York, let alone Cape Town? You know what happens to valuables in checked luggage, particularly on international flights. They disappear. Inevitably. Would you feel happy in this situation for want of three kilos?

As for #3... Would you pay $454 for the same food on ceramic plates and a slightly wider seat? I'm 5'8" and small-framed, so I can't tell the difference anyway. So, yes, it seems ridiculous to distill it to "I paid $454 for 3kg," but that is indeed the sorry state of the affairs.

As for the pain and potential hearing loss, well, yes, actually I do take that somewhat seriously. What could the flight attendant have done? Something like "Gosh, I'm sorry to hear that. I'll be sure to get someone to look at that. In the meantime, here's the email address for our customer relations team who can help you further when you get back home. Can I get you a cocktail for now?" is a hell of a lot better than indifference. Would it have made the pain in my ears go away? Probably not. Would it at least have me felt like a human being?

This is why Southwest is the only US carrier to remain consistently profitable. They have more flights than anyone else in the industry and among the lowest fares, and yet they somehow manage to score the highest customer satisfaction year after year. Heck, they sent me a birthday card. And, yes, I get that they send that to everyone and that it's just a form letter, but you know what? It feels nice. And it cost them ~$0.50 to put a little smile on my face. It isn't hard to delight people. Just make them feel valued and important, even if it's the same trinkety **** you give everyone. Try to smile a little. Hell, when I was a kid we still got little plastic wing pins or stickers.

Why is a little human empathy and comprehension of basic customer service and lifetime customer value / loyalty so difficult to comprehend? Are we all so jaded and bitter that we think this is the norm for how we should treat each other?

Are managers so profoundly incompetent and unable to train and enable employees? You know why Southwest employees are happy? Because they're taught how to do their job well, work together as a coherent team, and have the latitude to make the right decisions at the right times. And that makes them good at their job and valuable, which in turn makes them feel important and valued. This, of course, makes them happy and thus capable of actually caring about their work, creating a virtuous cycle. Loyal employees, loyal customers, loyal shareholders. Easy, baby. Try to give a ****. You might change something.
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  #6  
Old Jan 3, 2011, 8:23 AM
bilingual bilingual is offline
 
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Originally Posted by chrisgagne View Post
Bilingual, the only explanation for your reply is that you're an ambulance-chasing trial lawyer who saw my thread title and was disappointed that it did not, in fact, deliver a recoverable action for you to feast upon. Why else would you spend time on these forums over the holidays to post similarly-helpful retorts for several complainants on a variety of carriers? Hmm? Did I nail it?

It's not a matter of space. As I mentioned earlier, the bag was small but dense. It would have easily fit under the seat in front of me, and it was smaller than most of the bags I brought on. In fact, I had no complaints from every other carrier I flew with in the last few weeks, from South African Air, Botswana Air, Aegean Air, and a small Botswanan carrier. I flew in everything from jumbo jets to 24-passenger prop planes to a bloody Cessna and not one person complained or commented. In fact, the only reason why VA even had reason to mention something about my bag is the fact that they weighed each and every carry-on prior to the check-in line (presumably in an attempt to recover fuel costs?). I'm aware of airlines checking bag size occasionally and I agree that this is reasonable given the limited carry-on luggage space (though it's never happened to me), but in all my years I've never encountered an airline that weighed every carry-on at check in.

Finally, I could have easily put the stuff into two bags; 10kg and 7kg, easily meeting the 1 carry-on item plus one backpack, purse, laptop conditions. And if you tell me that the 10kg bag was 3kg too much and that the $454 penalty was well-deserved (as did the VA ground crew), well buddy, you really need to find a new hobby besides kicking other people when they're down.

And if you're a trial lawyer, please die a sad, lonely death from a heart attack in the rain on a sidewalk, passed on by every on-looker who is too afraid to help you for fear of getting sued in this litigious society you and your blood-sucking ilk helped to create.
Regarding your obscure allegations, i can inform you i have been working at a major airport as analyst, and i know that a lot of airlines are trying to extort their customers and are of no use when things go wrong.
But your complaint is ridiculous, i found it likewise stupid that i had to pay a fine, because i bicycled across a deserted street for a red light, but i nevertheless broke the law.

The same goes for you, you should have checked the carry-on baggage allowance, and send the expensive equipment by courier when you realized you were not allowed to bring 17kg equipment on board, you only have yourself to blame.

The limitation of carry-on is not only due to the size but also to the weight, if you enter adverse weather 17 kg can cause a lot of damage whether its placed on the floor or falls out of the cabin. But a guess in such case, you would blame the airline for letting you carry the heavy equipment on board...
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  #7  
Old Jan 3, 2011, 9:05 AM
chrisgagne chrisgagne is offline
 
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I appreciate concerns about safety and regulations, but on with the apologetics already. Somehow upgrading to premium economy magically eliminated all of their concerns and in such a manner that simply separating the bag into 10kg and 7kg could not resolve. You earlier commented that 10kg was a common limit, so that pretty much wraps that one up.

As an analyst, please do your part to help airlines reduce their costs by improving their operations. Cutting services, eliminating basic creature comforts, shafting employees, and nickel-and-diming customers does a nice job of short-term cost reductions, but it brings the airline on a slippery slope to profound mediocracy. Now the best we can hope for is Stockholm Syndrome; it's a sorry state of affairs when we're pleasantly surprised to find that our planes operated as intended and our baggage made it through in one piece. The only thing that will really save US carriers is a fundamental change in management philosophy injected throughout all levels of seniority and a very real reconsideration of their operational processes and assumptions. This is long, dirty work and I think it would be next to impossible for a large carrier to pull off successfully. And, hey, why should they? We keep bailing them out.

I hope one of these days a major global carrier grows some cojones and produces a airline that is actually a delight to fly. In the meantime, let's not apologize for them, shall we? I am certainly unqualified to participate in the operation of an airline, but I know from example that this is a problem that can, in fact, be solved. I hope you are a part of the solution. Think long-term and a little outside of the box; it will serve you well.
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  #8  
Old Jan 3, 2011, 10:41 AM
mars6423 mars6423 is offline
 
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The matter of fact is you were still 3kg over the limit and you were given options and as Jim pointed out you chose the option that required you to upgrade where you get more allowances due to the higher rate and the more space in the higher class

While you may not feel the extra benefits of premium economy due to your size you are still paying for a higher service and comfort and taking a seat in that section away from another person who may want to upgrade

You had options and you won't take responsibility for your choice, as it is easy to see carry on allowances before you fly so you should understand and realize that you were overweight and that it may have to be checked or other options

With the sound, many times I have flown I as well ad others had no idea what was being announced due to the volume being too low, and as you said you have sensitive ears, it seems like you are complaining just to complain and making it seem that you did no wrong and that they should bend rules for you
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  #9  
Old Jan 3, 2011, 11:03 AM
bilingual bilingual is offline
 
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Originally Posted by chrisgagne View Post
I appreciate concerns about safety and regulations, but on with the apologetics already. Somehow upgrading to premium economy magically eliminated all of their concerns and in such a manner that simply separating the bag into 10kg and 7kg could not resolve. You earlier commented that 10kg was a common limit, so that pretty much wraps that one up.

As an analyst, please do your part to help airlines reduce their costs by improving their operations. Cutting services, eliminating basic creature comforts, shafting employees, and nickel-and-diming customers does a nice job of short-term cost reductions, but it brings the airline on a slippery slope to profound mediocracy. Now the best we can hope for is Stockholm Syndrome; it's a sorry state of affairs when we're pleasantly surprised to find that our planes operated as intended and our baggage made it through in one piece. The only thing that will really save US carriers is a fundamental change in management philosophy injected throughout all levels of seniority and a very real reconsideration of their operational processes and assumptions. This is long, dirty work and I think it would be next to impossible for a large carrier to pull off successfully. And, hey, why should they? We keep bailing them out.

I hope one of these days a major global carrier grows some cojones and produces a airline that is actually a delight to fly. In the meantime, let's not apologize for them, shall we? I am certainly unqualified to participate in the operation of an airline, but I know from example that this is a problem that can, in fact, be solved. I hope you are a part of the solution. Think long-term and a little outside of the box; it will serve you well.
I agree that it hollows the argument regarding the safety, when you are allowed to bring it onboard by upgrading, this is not something i have seen on other european carriers where checked bag allowance is greater, but the kgs of carry-on is fixed regardless of class.

I do not think you understand that the airlines adapt to their costumers, not the other way around, most people regard airtravel as plain transport from A to Z and want to pay as little as possible, the airlines adapt to this situation.
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  #10  
Old Jan 3, 2011, 10:52 PM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
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Quote:
I do not think you understand that the airlines adapt to their costumers
You have got to be kidding me... what planet are you on? Since deregulation, US airlines have not adapted to their customers. They have built fortress hubs, which are effectively local monopolies, consolidated massively, precisely to avoid "adapting" to their customers.

We have all had our sport in criticising Chris's original post...but in fact, he articulates well the overall point. The lack of discretion, the sense that the rules are loaded in favour of the airline and against the customer and the overall feeling that the airline is no longer trying to make your journey more comfortable, but instead to outwit to enhance their "revenue opportunities" leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

He also sets out well the utter transparency of the fake "security" and "safety" arguments, made largely by lazy or stupid airline employees to justify anything. The safety argument cannot possibly be legitimate... how could it become safe if you pay an extra $454? Ludicrous

The weight limit for hand luggage is set by the airlines, at least in Europe. Easyjet for example, has no weight limitation, but you must be able to place it in the overhead bin easily and without undue strain. Ryanair on the other hand strictly enforces dimensions and weight of hand luggage and will charge anyone even 1cm or 1kg over. BA vary the hand luggage allowance according to the class of ticket bought. It's a minefield.

Whilst I don't agree with Chris' argument regarding the value he received for his extra payment (ie buying him only 3kg), the overall thrust of his complaint and argument is sound.

(Except the headphones, which I suspect only came up because he was so ****** off everything they did by then irritated the hell out of him)
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  #11  
Old Jan 4, 2011, 9:08 AM
bilingual bilingual is offline
 
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Originally Posted by jimworcs View Post
You have got to be kidding me... what planet are you on? Since deregulation, US airlines have not adapted to their customers. They have built fortress hubs, which are effectively local monopolies, consolidated massively, precisely to avoid "adapting" to their customers.

We have all had our sport in criticising Chris's original post...but in fact, he articulates well the overall point. The lack of discretion, the sense that the rules are loaded in favour of the airline and against the customer and the overall feeling that the airline is no longer trying to make your journey more comfortable, but instead to outwit to enhance their "revenue opportunities" leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

He also sets out well the utter transparency of the fake "security" and "safety" arguments, made largely by lazy or stupid airline employees to justify anything. The safety argument cannot possibly be legitimate... how could it become safe if you pay an extra $454? Ludicrous

The weight limit for hand luggage is set by the airlines, at least in Europe. Easyjet for example, has no weight limitation, but you must be able to place it in the overhead bin easily and without undue strain. Ryanair on the other hand strictly enforces dimensions and weight of hand luggage and will charge anyone even 1cm or 1kg over. BA vary the hand luggage allowance according to the class of ticket bought. It's a minefield.

Whilst I don't agree with Chris' argument regarding the value he received for his extra payment (ie buying him only 3kg), the overall thrust of his complaint and argument is sound.

(Except the headphones, which I suspect only came up because he was so ****** off everything they did by then irritated the hell out of him)
As i am living in Northern Europe, i can not comment directly on US related matters, but here people vote with their wallet, and as a consequence low-fare airlines has emerged and regular airlines have cut costs dramatically in order to be competitive. If customers choose quality compared to cheap flights, the low fare airline revolution would have never occurred.

It might not be that you have chosen to trade quality for cheap flights, but the majority has forced the evolution and airlines such as Southwest seems to find the right balance.
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  #12  
Old Jan 4, 2011, 8:24 PM
chrisgagne chrisgagne is offline
 
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Originally Posted by bilingual View Post
As i am living in Northern Europe, i can not comment directly on US related matters, but here people vote with their wallet, and as a consequence low-fare airlines has emerged and regular airlines have cut costs dramatically in order to be competitive. If customers choose quality compared to cheap flights, the low fare airline revolution would have never occurred.

It might not be that you have chosen to trade quality for cheap flights, but the majority has forced the evolution and airlines such as Southwest seems to find the right balance.
It's not a matter of trading quality for cheap flights. I'd argue that, now especially, Southwest has significantly higher quality than most of the other US carriers. The reason why they are cheaper isn't that they offer lower quality, but rather they've figured out their operations and staff. They fly only 737's to keep maintenance costs down, their happy teams reduce turn-around times at the airport, etc etc.

They've done a good job of eliminating waste, and "waste is anything the customer isn't willing to pay for." Waste for airlines is having pathetic operations and management that drives your cost of providing service up. Waste is not, however, blankets or bilking people over 3kg. That's the sort of short-sighted cost-cutting options given by fresh MBAs like myself trying to get a quick win for their resume, not fundamental change that turns companies around to create real winners.

And as for my sensitive ears... pain and ringing means hearing damage was caused, sensitive hearing or not.
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Old Jan 4, 2011, 8:26 PM
chrisgagne chrisgagne is offline
 
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Originally Posted by bilingual View Post
As i am living in Northern Europe, i can not comment directly on US related matters, but here people vote with their wallet, and as a consequence low-fare airlines has emerged and regular airlines have cut costs dramatically in order to be competitive. If customers choose quality compared to cheap flights, the low fare airline revolution would have never occurred.

It might not be that you have chosen to trade quality for cheap flights, but the majority has forced the evolution and airlines such as Southwest seems to find the right balance.
It's not a matter of trading quality for cheap flights. I'd argue that, now especially, Southwest has significantly higher quality than most of the other US carriers. The reason why they are cheaper isn't that they offer lower quality, but rather they've figured out their operations and staff. For example, they fly only 737's to keep maintenance costs down, their happy teams reduce turn-around times at the airport, etc etc.

They've done a good job of eliminating waste, and "waste is anything the customer isn't willing to pay for." Waste for airlines is having pathetic operations and management that drives your cost of providing service up. Waste is not, however, blankets or bilking people over 3kg. That's the sort of short-sighted cost-cutting options given by fresh MBAs like myself trying to get a quick win for their resume, not fundamental change that turns companies around to create real winners.

And as for my sensitive ears... pain and ringing means hearing damage was caused, "sensitive" hearing or not. In-ear headphones are sensitive, not my ears.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 12:48 AM
Gromit801 Gromit801 is offline
 
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SWA also is on the ragged edge of aircraft maintenance, to the point of having bribed FAA inspectors a few years ago. No, it's not quality (exclusively) that draws people, it's cheap fares.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 1:47 AM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
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Southwest has one of the best safety records in terms of mortality of any airline in the world. AA was also caught up in a maintenance "scandal". Southwest is a perfect illustration that good customer service is a matter of attitude. It is a no frills operation which treats it's customers with respect. Compare that to Delta, which is a so called "full service" airline and the way it treats its customers and there is a whole world of difference. You can detect it just by looking at this and other complaint forums... and by looking at the DOT statistics.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 8:27 AM
bilingual bilingual is offline
 
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Originally Posted by chrisgagne View Post
It's not a matter of trading quality for cheap flights. I'd argue that, now especially, Southwest has significantly higher quality than most of the other US carriers. The reason why they are cheaper isn't that they offer lower quality, but rather they've figured out their operations and staff. They fly only 737's to keep maintenance costs down, their happy teams reduce turn-around times at the airport, etc etc.

They've done a good job of eliminating waste, and "waste is anything the customer isn't willing to pay for." Waste for airlines is having pathetic operations and management that drives your cost of providing service up. Waste is not, however, blankets or bilking people over 3kg. That's the sort of short-sighted cost-cutting options given by fresh MBAs like myself trying to get a quick win for their resume, not fundamental change that turns companies around to create real winners.

And as for my sensitive ears... pain and ringing means hearing damage was caused, sensitive hearing or not.
You are not taking into account that the low fare revolution has forced traditional airlines down to the knees.
The problem is that traditional network airlines tries to match the lowfare airlines in prices due to the increased competition, which they are in no position to do without wrecking their product, as we can see in number of Delta complaints as an example.
A fast turn around is for example not possible for a network airline.
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Old Jan 5, 2011, 10:31 PM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
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The truth is that the model adopted by the "network carriers" of hub and spoke, which was designed to limit competition is now the model which is causing them difficulties. This model requires high volumes of passengers passing through hubs and reduces aircraft utilisation and increases costs. This model was specifically designed to limit competition by creating huge fortress hubs and it ill behoves these high cost, anti-competitive airlines to complain when other, more efficient carriers attack them. I cannot wait for Southwest to go after Delta in Atlanta... it is long overdue.
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  #18  
Old Jan 18, 2011, 10:59 PM
chrisgagne chrisgagne is offline
 
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On the subject of SWA uniquely getting things right:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/2011011...ullnationyahoo

VA and other airlines could stand to learn something from this story, not to mention the 6500+ positive comments on this one news article alone.
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