Why airlines are having trouble


I’m writing this on the plane as I’m flying back to Phoenix after spending the week back in Bethlehem at a meeting working on a new project for Church Publishing.

I flew out to Phoenix and I’m returning on unnamed airline (******* ***). I’m pretty sure that if it is at all possible, this will be my last time flying this airline.

Both the flight out and the flight back have been oversold. It was the same way the other 2 or 3 times I’ve flown the airline. In every case there’s a series of repeated calls asking people to give up their seats and take a later flight or fly another day so that the airline can actually provide the services to the people they’ve sold them to.

Once the gate attendants have managed to cull the herd sufficiently that we’ll all have a seat, we get boarded by zones. People attempt to jump on board earlier than their “zone cadre” is summoned since if they don’t manage to get onboard quickly, there is no place left to stow the *one* bag and small personal item that they are now allowed to bring onboard. That creates a great amorphous cloud of people hovering about the gate jockeying for position so that they can be in the front part of the zone cadre – and at least have a bit of a chance to score a stowage spot for their stuff.

Onboard the fun continues. Apparently the airlines have gotten out of the customer service industry and are now a public utility that attempts to move human bodies from one location to the other location at the lowest cost possible to the airline. Any normal amenity that one might expect, like food, drink or a headset to watch a movie are available for purchase by the cargo – if the supply lasts. I’ve yet to actually be able to purchase a meal onboard one of the (unnamed airline) flights that I’ve flown. That’s six flights and no food – because they can’t manage to stock enough food on an oversold, overcrowded flight to provide a meal to people who might want to pay extra for one. Amazing.

I won’t even begin my rant on the shrinking seat size that is apparently trending exactly opposite and with similar speed to the expanding girth of my fellow Americans. Suffice it to say, now-a-days I find myself lucky to have 2/3rds of my seat to myself. I find I have to give up the rest to either the people in aisle who are waiting to go potty, or to the hefty person seated beside me.

The problem seems to be that the executives are no longer seeing the traveling public as customers and now apparently view them as commodities. That change in viewpoint is the only way I can understand the catastrophic collapse. When you imagine that a passenger is a fungible quantity that will only purchase based on price and is totally ignoring the aesthetics of the experience, then the present way of treating your revenue resource makes sense.

The thing is that people have options. Ten or twenty dollars in purchase price for a cross-country flight with a little more leg space, a guaranteed seat and a reasonable expectation of being fed is a small price to pay. And I’ll pay it from now on. Happily.

I don’t book my flights, I have agents or other people manage that. But from now on I’m going to be very clear with them that I’m not flying on either ******* **** – or ***** for that matter. I’ll move my schedule around and pay a tiny bit more. Or maybe not. FIguring out what a fair price is anymore for an airline ticket is just about as easy arriving at a price for a used car. But that’s a subject for another rant.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...