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Old Apr 8, 2013, 6:33 PM
Northern_Joe Northern_Joe is offline
Join Date: Apr 2013
Posts: 1
Red face Don't bother complaining about the airlines

I have great empathy for the many people who come to this site with concerns about mistreatment suffered at the hands of the airlines – I have been there and I know the feeling! Immensely frustrating.

However, I want to offer another perspective... the product the airlines offer is exactly what consumers demand. I will explain...

People come on here and share stories about being wronged, and those stories usually conclude with a line like, "Don't fly Happy Wings Airlines." (or whichever carrier the post is written about). The problem is, when you look at everyone else on this site, there are clearly massive problems with EVERY major U.S. airline... they're all doing similar things, albeit perhaps on different scales. So one person's bad experience drives them from American to Delta, another person's experiences drive that person from Delta to United, and a third's person's nightmare moves them from United back to American. Get my point? Each airline wins as many disgruntled customers from other airlines as they lose their own disgruntled customers.

As long as they're all behaving the same way (which is more or less the case), they really have no reason to show the slightest care for your own personally lousy experience or your vows to take your business elsewhere. That's why so many of you on this site are in disbelief about how indifferent the airlines seem to be about the horrible treatment you've received – it's because they ARE indifferent, and they have their indifference down to a precise mathematical formula!

The optimistic complainer will say, "Yeah, but if we complain loudly enough and make it painful enough for all the airlines using these bad business practices, we'll create a niche for some airline to come in and do things differently, and that airline will leave the others in the dirt." I'm sorry to say it, but the airlines have spent millions to do their market research, and they're way ahead of you.

The trouble is that almost every American traveller wants it all: fast, ultra-safe, comfortable air travel that's on-time with friendly customer service at a very attractive price. The economic reality is that this combination of factors DOES NOT EXIST!! (Or at least not in a long-term economically-viable model). If there were a way to do all of this and keep prices very low and stay in business for the long-term, don't you think some genius in a suit would suggest that their airline give it a whirl? (In truth, better treatment DOES exist... it's called Business Class... it's just not available at the low costs people want.)

Fast, modern planes cost $$$ (far more than they did once-upon-a-time, even after you adjust for inflation). Fuel costs far more $$$ than it once did. Ultra-safe flight means that consumers demand answers every time just one plane goes does, and they demand that the cause of any single crash be rectified on future planes/flights/operations and all that costs more $$$ (investigations, retro-fits, new personnel and training, new safety devices on planes, in airports, etc). Good customer service costs $$$. Providing refunds and reimbursements when flights are cancelled costs $$$. And finally, customers don't want to be cramped like sardines, but again, extra space costs more.

At the end of the day, airlines have discovered that 80%+ of American travellers place two factors from this list above all others: getting very cheap tickets and safe travel. Evidence of the first half of that statement: low-cost carriers have thrived very well by capitalizing on cheap tickets (even at the cost of other types of quality service). Evidence of the second half of that statement: Americans travelling overseas will usually balk at travelling on cheaper local carriers ("Duct Tape Air") because the one thing they won't compromise is safety.

Overall, the vast majority of American consumers would prefer lousy service, cramped conditions, and being mistreated by airline staff, as long as they are flying cheaply and safely. What evidence do I have that roughly 80% of people agree with this logic? Because it's already been proven by purchasing habits.

People often CLAIM on surveys that they are willing to pay more for better service, but when they sit down to purchase their tickets, they rarely do. And as I said above, airlines already give us a choice. The people who purchase Business Class tickets are usually treated much better, and very few of them have the type of complaints that are shared on this site. But airlines can't usually sell more than 20% Business Class on most routes, mainly because that improved service costs A LOT more! The people who buy those tickets are paying not only for more space and a nice meal, but also for better overall customer service gate-to-gate (and beyond). Most people won't spend that much just to have better service and space for a 3-hour flight.

Virtually every complaint on this site is cost-related. I know, some people will argue that a smile is free, and at the very least airlines could improve service by ensuring that their staff conducts business in a friendly manner. But sorry, that logic is wrong again. From a management perspective, smiles are very expensive. Poorly-compensated employees don't smile very much, and are less likely to treat customers with respect. Hiring (and retaining) friendly, professional ticketing staff, trustworthy and careful baggage handlers, and competent caring air crews is one of the biggest single costs an airline faces. Better people cost more. Pay people less, and the good ones will move on to another job soon enough.

In other words, the next time you go into a low-cost travel website and book the cheapest Economy Class fare to your holiday destination, understand that you are indirectly ensuring the (lack of) quality of your experience. If customers were all willing to pay 75% more for their flights, you'd see a proportional level of quality improvement.

I'm not saying to let the airlines off the hook, or to stop making complaints. Complaining still helps to inform one another as consumers that there are many others experiencing similar problems to ourselves, and it happens on every U.S. airline. But just don't kid yourself into thinking that you'll somehow 'punish' the airline by informing enough people about your bad experience. The bad service they provided you is a CHOICE... not theirs, but ours (collectively as consumers).

For me, I've made my choice... I DEMAND quality experience when I travel, but I'm not willing to pay what the airlines would charge for a quality (ie- Business Class) experience. So, in my family we now take all of our vacations by car! We don't travel as far, but comparatively speaking, the interior of our family car is far more luxurious than any airline seat, we don't have airport annoyances and delays, no TSA, we stop when we want, and we pay a fraction of the cost. No annoying neighbors and no crying babies.

For those who have no choice but to fly, I encourage you to keep the complaints coming... but just don't expect anything to change.
Old Apr 9, 2013, 5:02 PM
Matt_FLL Matt_FLL is offline
Join Date: Nov 2011
Posts: 100

What a well-written and realistic perspective. You’re 100% right: people claim that they’d be willing to spend a little extra for better service. However, when it comes time to book, passengers will always buy the cheapest tickets. People legitimately rant about a horrific experience on an airline, but often willing to give the company another chance when a cheap fare is available.

Each fare is a different product. Passengers are willing to be subjected to restrictions in exchange for a discount. The most common restrictions include an advanced purchase requirement, heavy penalty for changing, non-peak time/day, and inability to select a decent seat. However, I want to append to your point and mention the major game changer—even businesses demand cheap fares today. When I fly to visit a client, they always want me to select the cheapest airfare. They don’t really care if I don’t get to select my seat. Goodbye to the days where business travelers are able and willing to pay 4X of the person sitting next to them. That feeds into the systemic problem. If you want to avoid bankruptcy, it is no longer a good economic decision to have a customer relations department that accepts incoming phone calls. You’ll need to charge to standby for earlier flights. No more drinks. And so on.

I certainly support your decision to avoid air travel. It's brutal.
Old Jun 25, 2013, 6:46 PM
seeker80 seeker80 is offline
Join Date: Jan 2009
Posts: 14

I did.

I used to fly for the job frequently, years ago, and have the normal horror stories everyone has. I changed jobs years ago which allowed my to slow down and didn't require airtravel. On the infrequent occasions when I would fly for vacation, the crapshoot that is air travel would reappear and I vowed not to put up with the annoyance. We would drive the 10 hrs. to Florida and do the train for 17 hrs. to New Orleans. Loved it.

...No TSA, rude airline employees and the most uncomfortable (seats designed for the 5'2" not the 6'2" I am) mode of transportation devised by man.

Recently, I helped out a colleague at a conference he was organizing. I ran the shuttle around but mostly from the airport to the conference site. Of the 20 people I picked up, 3 had serious delays (more than 1 1/2 hrs.). We had 3 other shuttle drivers (one running to another airport) which has similiar %. The delays caused missed dinners, late speakers and delayed sessions. The reasons varied (overbooking, mechanical, weather) as they always do.

I sat in the cell phone lot and smiled. I was just glad it wasn't me flying. I had rented a car and drove 6 hours to get in. Had I flow it would have taken me at least 5 hours to clear security, connect, gather my bags and it would have cost twice as much, even after taking into account the fuel.

What makes the story even better is that I recently learned I had promoted to a regional job. My territory includes cities that are 6, 8 and 10 hours by car. I have told them I will drive instead of flying. Only one has a direct flight and it costs twice as much as any other connecting flight to the same city. The hours saved by flying v. driving are in the range of 2-4 hours, but for me that is offset by not having to deal with the whole airline world and their neverending issues. And I have the flexibility of leaving when I want to and have a vehicle at my disposal at all times.

Best of all, I can use my phone whenever I want to, not when the flight dominatrix says I can.

I started flying in the '70s when flying could be said to be "fun" with a straight face. When they start making the experience slightly more tolerable, I might consider coming back.

Until then, I will come here for the occasional schadenfreude moment.

Good luck.
Old Jun 25, 2013, 10:36 PM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Shropshire, England
Posts: 3,197

It is great that you can make that choice...sadly, many are unable to. It is a shame there are no fast intercity train connections in most major markets...maybe that would shake up the airlines complacency.

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