In Case You Thought It Would Change Anytime Soon

Today’s Chicago Tribune gave front page coverage to a US Department of Transportation consumer forum on air travel. The story’s title, You Are Now Free To Take A Flying Leap, says it all. The reporter’s conclusion is disheartening realistic — “airline passengers received an unapologetic warning at the forum that customer service will continue to diminish and consumers more than ever need to fend for themselves at the airport”. The airlines’ ever expanding set of nickel-and-diming fees are less about generating additional revenue and more about cost reduction — reducing the demand for services that aren’t directly associated with keeping a jet in the air. American Airlines’ $15 charge for the first checked bag is really all about reducing fuel costs — incenting passengers to bring less luggage, reducing fuel consumption through reduced load weight.

Comparing passenger jets to “flying buses” is not an exaggeration. The airlines are redefining themselves, shrinking the boundaries of their responsibilities. They no longer sell a travel experience; they sell transport. And they’re walking running away from any service that doesn’t directly involve transporting passengers through the air. Is this a business opportunity for another company — say, for one of the private airport operating companies? Hmmm, not sure the result will be any better if BAA’s stewardship of London Heathrow is any guide. The real question, though — are regular coach passengers willing to pay for anything more than being hauled from one city to another?

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1 Comments.

  1. Rod Schiffman

    You’ve really hit the nail on the head. Passengers aren’t willing to pay for anything more than transport, so why are they surprised when that’s all they get. On the one hand I’d like to have the services I had 20 years ago back. Of course back then a ticket from SLC to SFO was $600. So that’s probably $1200 now. My clients tend to pay for full fare flights since I don’t get more than a couple day notice to come. So, I’d normally be fine with almost all expensive tickets and more services. I don’t pay for it.

    On the other hand. I do like that I can generally afford to fly anywhere, with some advance notice, pretty cheap these days.

    Perhaps the answer is that one day there will be more differentiation between airlines than just price. Then we can make better decisions.