In Case It’s Not Clear, People Really Hate Airlines

When the images of a bleeding passenger being dragged off a United Express flight began to surface, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be good for United. But I don’t think anyone expected it to erupt into the global rallying cry that it’s become. United’s missteps clearly poured gas on this fire, but there’s more going on here. Years and years of pent-up anger aimed at airlines is being released, and it’s not pretty.

The severity of the situation really dawned on me last Thursday as I sat in an interview with a local Fox reporter. We started talking about the Chicago Aviation Police, and that’s when it hit me. Over the last few years, police violence has been a hot-button issue. It has spawned the Black Lives Matter movement, and it has polarized people around the country. And here was a textbook example of what people have been rallying against… a defenseless, older minority was dragged off an airplane by the police, and he was severely injured (though not killed, fortunately) in the process. You would have thought this would have ignited another round of vitriol aimed at the police, but no. Everyone blamed United. The Chicago Aviation Police even suspended officers over this, but nobody seems to care. It’s all about United, and that really says a great deal about just how much people hate airlines.

There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, but while you can spread blame around, much of it lies with the airlines themselves, specifically primarily the big 3 legacy carriers (American, Delta, United). Case-in-point, when I was talking with that Fox reporter, she was clearly angry. So I asked her what she hated most. She said it was being charged “$20 for a blanket” or for peanuts. It was that whole nickel-and-diming thing. But, as I’ve written here many times, I think this model makes sense (even more sense as a bundled fare family, like JetBlue has done). But the airlines were so desperate to grab cash back when the housing crisis began and oil spiked that they slapped that first checked bag fee on without giving it a second thought. Most fees have been added in that fashion, and the customer experience was never a serious part of the equation. Thanks to such a botched rollout of the a la carte model, the airlines never had a chance of getting people on their side. People don’t trust the airlines, and we’re now at the point where every misstep, big or small, helps as a proof-point to strengthen those anti-airline beliefs.

I watched this United issue snowball last week, and found myself feeling frustrated. Sure, the way the airline stumbled through the handling of this mess was part of it. But the bigger concern is that I don’t see a quick fix for the root problem here. It’s not clear there’s any fix at all.

I thought back to a previous flashpoint, when scores of passengers found themselves stuck in an airplane on the tarmac for hours and hours on end on multiple occasions. There was a tremendous outcry then, but there was also a clear mission. They wanted to make sure nobody ever got stuck on the tarmac for that long again. Though we can argue whether the end solution was the right one, people rose up, took that to the government, and pushed for a regulatory solution. It worked. Today, tarmac delays almost never happen thanks to the will of the people, but this situation is different.

The crux of the problem is that there is no single, clear goal here. It feels more like the Occupy Wall Street movement where people are mad, but everyone has a different reason for feeling that way. That Fox reporter was mad at a la carte pricing, but others are mad about delays. Some are fed up with surly employees. My wife remains livid at the mess of a boarding process. This is different because there is no one fixable problem. It’s just a general loathing, and there isn’t a silver bullet. People just want the airlines to be better than they are.

Can they do that? Well they’re trying. Flush with reasonable profits instead of the razor-thin margins (often negative) they’ve lived off of for years, airlines in the US are investing in their products. It’s now fairly normal to get free video content and free snacks when those were far from the norm just a couple years ago. And this stability also makes it a better work environment for employees. That should result in better service.

But while airlines have started to improve, they’ve also introduced product changes people instantly dislike, including Basic Economy and the decision to add more seats to airplanes. There may be rational justification for these moves, but they don’t play well publicly. Two steps forward, one step back. Or maybe it’s one step forward and two steps back. Either way, any improvement is met by the public with skepticism as people wait for the next axe to fall.

In the short run, we’re going to see (and already have seen) some changes because of this latest mess. Delta raised the limits on how much its employees can offer to get volunteers off an airplane when needed. American has pledged not to take a confirmed customer off an airplane again just to let another passenger on. And United, which will be making more changes after it finishes its review, is requiring crews to be booked at least an hour before departure on full flights so that the exact situation we just saw occur is never repeated.

But frankly, these are all small potatoes. It is incredibly rare to have to pull someone off an airplane after boarding. This might be great for the few that it helps, but it does not deal with the seething rage coming from the masses.

The big 3 airlines have spent years trying to turn themselves into viable businesses, but decisions were often made without really thinking about the customer. And that tone-deafness has caused a slow-simmering reaction that is now bubbling to the surface in a very palpable way. Like I said, there are no easy solutions here.

Now that the big 3 airlines have transformed their business models, maybe it’s time for them to take a break. No more “innovating,” or whatever their corporate speak proclaims, for awhile. It’s time to turn inward and scrutinize the business with an eye on the customer. Start repairing the broken relationships now and work toward building long-term trust and respect.

[Original image via Yellowstone National Park]

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115 Comments on "In Case It’s Not Clear, People Really Hate Airlines"

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David
Guest

Ryanair has managed to improve its customer image from the “nasty airline” to “ok they are not that bad any more” over the last few years; that means that AA, DL and UA should be able to as well

Davey
Guest
Cranky, I find the hatred for the airlines astounding. People have the airline system they want. The nation went from a pre-1978 model of onboard service to today’s model of low cost is everything. The fact is that no airline can offer both low fares and ultimate high-quality service to the same passenger. You get what you pay for. Nobody is arguing the United incident at ORD was bad news. And Oscar has acted to change the way in which gate agents handle passenger bumpings/removals (or whatever you want to call what United did). But the core problem is that… Read more »
SirWired
Guest

You get what you pay for, yes, this is absolutely true. But the “Big 3” airlines haven’t adjusted their marketing to reflect that; they are marketing as if they are still selling the same product they sold decades ago; is it any wonder people are upset when they don’t get i?

IO
Member
at some level you do get “what you pay for”. however, are the “ancillary services” such as a surly FA, being beaten and dragged out, being told the “you are going to like the changes” lie, removed to make room for higher paying passenger, losing a child, etc. what customers pay for? At the end, I want to take responsibility for my choices. I will not, unless I’m down to a nickel and a dime, travel on base fares with “legacy” service or on the ULLC (potaito potato for the masses); I expect not to be dragged out either, so… Read more »
Maarten Albarda
Member
I think the real problem is bad marketing, bad corporate communications and bad product management. And in the eye of the consumer it all feeds to their bad perception. As we know from marketing 1 on 1, perception is reality and is much, much harder to reverse because, once it has taken hold, it is in our collective heads. Lets start with the product. Yes, the airlines have finally got some money, and they are, at last, investing in new equipment and equipment upgrades. But almost none of those upgrades are impacting the real life experience of most passengers, who… Read more »
southbay flier
Guest
I think part of that is that a lot of airline bloggers (not CF) ooh and aah any new Business Class seat without really considering that most people will never be in those seats in first place and really don’t seem to care that coach is becoming worse and worse. The new Polaris seat is nice, but if you are not there, you’re stuck in coach where they added an extra seat to each row to cram you in further. It’s like the rich get what they want and the rest get crumbs. It might also be a reflection on… Read more »
Oliver
Guest

Most people also never read those blogs.

IO
Member

I disagree on CF not being one of the bloggers who “ooh and aah any new business class” If I’m right I think that’s part of the benefits he’s pointed out as airlines have become profitable.
I do agree in that it is “a reflection on society” as the middle class disappears, imo.

Ziggy
Guest

There is just to much common sense written into this article. :)

jeffz
Member
If we were to discuss root-causes of customer dissatisfaction, I would say that it is the combination of a-la-carte non-refundable tickets with irregular-operations. Irregular-operations due to weather and maintenance are intrinsic with the airline industry. Irregular-operation will not go away. However, when the airline tries to define the exact benefit of the experience through myriad options and then fails to deliver on it—because of irregular-operations or otherwise—that is the problem. From a customer standpoint, there is nothing wrong with a non-refundable a-la-carte model. However, as a business, you must deliver the purchased product as specified every-single-time. Otherwise, it might be… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

That is an interesting point. I wonder if standby is a product they could sell?

“We’ll get you to your destination on April 23 or by 9am April 24th, but you have to be at the airport by 9am on April 23rd.” That being said no one would read the fine print on this and they’d yell to high heavens about it. At least with buddy passes, people are educated by the employees giving the pass.

luana
Member
I have been flying for at least 60 years and yes it was much nicer flying back in the 60’s, but lately, am I becoming a real curmudgeon in my old age, I am really annoyed at the airlines.. Last month we flew from Boston to Washington to see our grandson;I bought the tickets on line but when I looked at seats available for “free, there were only middle seats and none together. What exactly are we paying for when we buy a ticket? This has happened before but it seems ridiculous . Next time I get on a bus,… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
Good article and it raises a whole lot of issues…. But first, social media has created a whole new environment for society and businesses are most certainly affected. Everyone now has an opinion and thinks their opinions matter to the world when in reality most people simply hop onto the train someone else started. As you note, there is a generalized hatred for airlines because the media for years said that airlines are lousy businesses that are a most-hated industry. People put up with far more pushing and rudeness on the roads and in many other venues of life but… Read more »
NICK
Member
You’ve made some great points here. Something I would like to add is that the airlines are just a representation of North American culture/Corporate culture, you could almost say customer driven to bring the price down. We have seen it with fast food, supermarkets, and airlines. The rest of the world follows suit starting with Europe then Asia. Consider shopping at Walmart to the stores of old and see the difference in customer service – the consumer wanted prices brought down. The legacy carriers in Europe tried to stay in the customer service market but competition through prices brought their… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
very good points. Americans want and have an informal culture compared to many parts of the world – few formalities, lots of independence and freedom to do “my own thing” The American service culture reflects American values. Even fast food employees in other countries have different levels of service than in the US because English doesn’t have a formal “you” that is used in business and non-personal conversations but many languages do. Americans want to receive what they are not willing to give in terms of service in terms of formality even though Americans are capable of delivering fast, efficient… Read more »
Davey
Guest
The seat pitch argument is just flat-out wrong. In Frank Borman’s book, “Countdown”, he talked about being President of Eastern Airlines during the debate over the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Mr. Borman took a standard two-row display of Eastern seats as they existed pre-deregulation and then a second demonstration row showing how Eastern would position seats if the Deregulation Act was passed and became law. The latter looked much like our coach seats do today and it was humorous to watch overweight Congressmen slip into what has become the norm today. American tried “more room in coach” for everyone… Read more »
Kpwweb
Member

Well said!

I started flying when it was “an experience”–the airlines seemed happy you were there and enjoyed your business. Pilots would explain the route and sights along the way. Now it is nothing more than a bus that can get you from point to point (most of the time).

It is a shame the airlines have lost sight of the customer when they are in the service sector.

Sam
Guest
I think the Big 3 made a pretty significant strategic error by looking at all low cost carriers and their customers the same way. I now prefer JetBlue and Southwest specifically because they have fewer / cheaper fees. I avoid Frontier, Spirit, and now the Big 3 at all costs (lame pun intended) because I hate paying for things like checked bags, carry-ons, and seat assignments. Seems like the Big 3 react to a LCC-friendly customer like me by saying “a price sensitive customer! lets de-bundle / price a la carte / give him the fees he wants!” That may… Read more »
andrewbw
Guest
I like your post, Sam, and I feel similarly. I’m not really a huge fan of Southwest the airline (for a host of reasons, both real and completely petty), but 9 out of 10 flights they’re my first choice. Why? Because even as a seasoned traveler, fully aware of how to work the system to my benefit, I find the avalanche of fare classes, fees, options, different sizes of planes, etc. on the “Big Three” to be just tiresome enough that I don’t want to deal with it. At all. I can’t imagine how people who aren’t well versed in… Read more »
Oliver
Guest

You prefer B6 because you hate bag fees, and yet they charge for the first game, just like the Big 3, according to

https://www.jetblue.com/travel/baggage/?intcmp=hd_info

Sam
Guest

True, but no fee for carry-on, seat assignment, or in-flight entertainment. Plus generous legroom in every seat and quality snacks. Even for us peons who don’t spring for premium economy. Its a much better product than any of the big 3 offer and fees are cheaper & less common.

A
Guest
I think a lot of the vitriol aimed at airlines is due to the fact that they have become the 21st century de-facto long distant transit. The American alternative, the road trip, is equally loathed and parodied in film, i.e. Family Vacation. We may reminisce about the trips in the family station wagon, just like we do about “the good days” of flying, but at the time nobody was none too happy about the experience. The big difference is that when you’re doing the piloting yourself in the family truckster the only person to blame for problems is yourself. You… Read more »
OuterSpaceGuy
Guest

Noticed that you left Southwest out of this writeup. I personally view them much better than the Uniteds of the world…

David
Member
Cranky, I think much of the problem is that a company like United, or even worse, American, have a clear corporate mentality of a sales and marketing company, not a transportation company. Therefore, sales and marketing are far more important than actually delivering any single passenger to any single place anywhere near on time. Sure it is great if you make it but it is far more important to them that they collect money. For anything and everything. Having done work for American, I can tell you that the management knew instantly if there was a .1 percent drop in… Read more »
SirWired
Guest
A few ramblings: – It might be a surprise to airlines, but isn’t a surprise for the average member of the flying public. Yes, flying is reasonably priced, and even cheap compared to Ye Golden Days. But that doesn’t make people happy about what’s been done to the flying experience to get to that point. Do passengers (unrealistically) want low fares AND “golden age” service? Yes. But there’s gotta be a better way of selling and delivering the cut-rate service that is apparently what customers are willing to pay for. – I think that airlines have become too focused on… Read more »
IO
Member
CF – the contrarian I tend to be and, at times, simpleminded tells me your “no single, clear goal here” is not necessarily so. I think that the “golden rule”, “bring humanity” goal some airlines used to operate under is a good single clear goal. The most recent example imo is a JetBlue that used to have and operate under the goal of “bring humanity back to flying”, but unfortunately, imo, with the hasty decision to fire Neeleman that mostly went away with the next CEOs. Yes, JB had a major misstep, stranded passengers, caused by its Neeleman’s rushed ADHD… Read more »
IO
Member

please excuse the long post. I don’t read long post so I’m not offended if you don’t read this long one. I won’t know anyway but if I did it still applies, not offended.

A Finn in Texas
Guest
Most people blame the airline when things go wrong. In some cases that is justified in other cases it isn’t. Part of the issue is with ATC and the airport infrastructure (have you ever not been able to push back into an alley at LAX because of a plane blocking you?). Cranky- is there a website that compares customer experiences in a tabular format? I think that would help fliers decide who to fly. Also Cranky have you ever flown Finnair? Everything they do is very vanilla (part of it is culture). But it is the same boring boarding and… Read more »
SirWired
Guest

Airlines have blamed “ATC” and “aiport infrastructure” for delays, but in many cases it’s due to the airlines themselves over-stressing those resources, and then pretending everything is hunky-dory when writing schedules.

The fact that some airport terminals are crowded is not new news. If that causes flight delays, the proper response is to build in more time, or schedule fewer flights. Not blame the airport for having the same design it’s always had.

Neil
Guest
Notwithstanding the incredibly low real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) cost of air travel since a few decades ago, for me part of the problem is it feels like I’ve been forced to make bargains I didn’t want to make. Examples: Sure, I can now pay $50 for that premium economy seat and get 36″ seat pitch. But all I really wanted was to keep my 32″ seat pitch, can I pay back the $15 the airline saved? (Dollar amounts a 100% wild guess.) And yes, the on-board food was crappy, but it was there, and I didn’t have to fumble around trying… Read more »
billyshearer
Member
People love complaining about airlines but don’t do anything to educate themselves about how it all works. So purchase Basic Economy style tickets and then complain that they don’t get to pick their seats etc. In the U.K. I’ve heard people saying they’ll never fly easyJet or Ryanair again, and then… book easyJet and Ryanair again. Because as passengers we are obsessed with price, and just don’t want to admit it. Price fixing is wrong, but we want BA to price match easyJet. It feels like there is little loyalty these days and price is king. Ask non airline geeks… Read more »
SirWired
Guest
I disagree that airlines were “reacting/responding to the market” when killing their passenger experience. What they WERE doing is responding to their shareholders and booking statistics. It’s not the job of passengers to “educate themselves about how it all works”. It’s the job of airlines to make it clear to passengers what they are buying, so expectations are set accordingly. The airlines forgot that their “market” was made up by people. People with long memories. (memories of a better experience in the past, and memories of the poor experience they just got.) When an airline keeps marketing their experience as… Read more »
billyshearer
Member

I think my comment about passengers educating themselves was too broad – my pet hate is the mantra “it is the passengers responsibility… etc etc” but I was talking about the actual booking that a passenger has made. They’re guided through the process, and nothing seems to stick.

SirWired
Guest

In other news, an airline industry trade group is crowing over the fact that the DOT has suspended work on a regulation stating that airlines should make it easier for passengers to know about what fees apply to the ticket they are booking.

Seriously? Is there ANY hope that these guys will ever understand their customers? Is there ANY justification for fighting this rule other than to hide costs from their customers? And they are STILL shocked when people are upset with them?

Eric Morris
Guest

Instead, what about actual de-regulation? No DOT, TSA, FAA, government-owned airlines, Essential Air Service, ownership restrictions on foreign airlines, post-9/11 bailouts, federal air marshals, Chicago Aviation police thugs doing your dirty work, etc. …

Eric Morris
Guest

Government-owned “airports” not “airlines”

SirWired
Guest

No FAA? So, no ATC? No safety rules? No inspections? No passenger protections? Yeah, that’ll end well.

And I’d very much like to see how a private company could assemble the vast, contiguous swath of land required for an airport without a scrap of eminent domain.

Eric Morris
Guest

Does the FAA/NTSB figure out safety fixes (or have their rules stopped accidents from occurring), or is it Boeing, Airbus, GE, Rolls, and the airlines (plus pilots and crews on these planes everyday), who have a vested interest in ensuring planes don’t fall out the sky regularly? Regarding eminent domain and government subsidies of large swathes of land, I think James Hill’s Great Northern avoided Credit Mobilier-type scandals.

SirWired
Guest

Companies looking for short term profits DO cut corners; this is not a remarkable statement to make. The model of “Loot the company, draining it of money, and safely lock the profits away elsewhere for when the failure occurs” happens in a lot of industries (banking (ref: Great Recession), retail (ref: Sears/KMart), pharmaceuticals (ref: any number of drug scandals), etc.) Do you REALLY want that to happen to airlines?

Eric Morris
Guest

ValuJet essentially went out of business when it dumped people in the ocean. A government rule and enforcement didn’t save those people. I think you could argue Sears/K Mart didn’t cut enough profitable corners, like its more successful competition. Banking is a Federal Reserve-backed cartel, further proving my point of real government dis-intervention in the private economy would be better than the crony-capitalism of today.

Nick Barnard
Member

Morris. You’re incorrect. Valujet kept flying for quite sometime. Until they were bought by Southwest.

They just changed their name to AirTran (after buying another company called AirTran.)

Eric Morris
Guest

I did say “essentially”. The non-sophisticated public this article describes as hating airlines didn’t/wouldn’t know that.

Adam
Guest

ValuJet bought Airtran, dumping the Valujet name. Last time I checked, they go by the name Southwest now.

The “Feds” didn’t cause J7 to have bad mtc or logs. J7 did that in the name of cost savings. The sucky part is that the feds didnt shut them down earlier.

Eric Morris
Guest

I didn’t say the Feds forced them them to be unsafe. I said they ignored the rules, meaning the fear of the rules enforcement didn’t save the people.

Bob
Member
I am not here to say that the United passenger deserved the treatment by Chicago Authorities, however when will America stop with their entitlement and want everything to change each time an incident arises. What happen to the day when people respected one another. If some one is asked to leave and they refuse then where is the respect? So before long, spoiled rotten Americans will get whatever they want. I’m over seeing the whining and complaining about any little thing. People today are so wrapped up with social media and their perceptions without knowing the facts. They can’t greet… Read more »
SirWired
Guest

A passenger being asked to leave a seat they have paid for and are currently occupying because the airline has lousy operational planning? That’s not “respect” from the airline towards their customer (greatly inconveniencing the customer because of the airline’s mistake), and it’s not an “entitled” attitude to get upset about it.

Hey
Member

Actually, you’ve proved Bob’s point; whether you agree with it or not, the “seat” remains property of the airline – even in moments of blunder.

It’s never wise to claim ownership of another’s property.

Mark Skinner
Guest
Um, no. There was a contract. A court will decide who was in the right under that contract. The airline thought it had the right, so did the customer. The airline got someone to use force to assert its position. If the court decides the airline’s contract allowed it to do what it did, no problem, you are right. If a court decides the airline was in breach of the contract, and therefore the use of force was unlawful, well, the courts and justice system is specifically designed to crush and punish the unlawful use of force. That’s quite apart… Read more »
Yo
Member
I think you need to re-think your position. Seems, whether rightly or wrong, when United ‘bumped’ the Dr, he no longer held seat on that flight – therefore, technically, he was claiming seat that is not his, it belongs to United. Period! Consider this:: If I contract you to drive me from A to B, and after I arrive and take seat, you inform me, in agreement with contract terms, you are unable to transport me today because something unexpected just came up and you need to instead reposition some of your staff – that, if left unattended, would be… Read more »
Mark Skinner
Guest

Let’s wait for the court to rule. The whole point of contracts is that they are legally enforcable. Parties to contracts can and do give up rights and have obligations while the contract is on foot. Your example is not relevant. It’s what is written on the contract of carriage, and nothing else.

Hey
Member

“The whole point of contracts is that they are legally enforcable [sic]” in a court of law.

One should never seek self remedy by disobeying law enforcement demand to vacate another’s property.

Mark Skinner
Guest

Your opinion is noted. The doctor obviously disagreed. Thus far, you are both equal. Let’s see who the court agrees with.

If it agrees with you, happy you, you were right on the internet. If the doctor was right, he will have made more money via damages and compensation, and suffered less than most professional boxers make over their careers.

But it’s the court’s determination that matters.

Hey
Member

You nailed it! Most prevalent is American traveler belief they have constitutional right to arrive on time.

danwriter1
Member
It’s not just the masses, either. The legacy carriers have hollowed out their FF programs, in the process reorienting themselves to cater first to their wealthiest customers (note how AA now starts its boarding process by calling for Concierge Key members — a tier that was like a secret society until now) and moving its BIS elites further down the chain. It’s useful referencing Occupy for several reasons here. At the same time, airports themselves have become far more consumer friendly. There are far more options when it coms to food, and that’s also driving competition, which further expands options… Read more »
southbay flier
Guest
There are still many things that I think about this. 1) What are the actual sequence of events? When was it determined that they needed these four deadheaders on the plane and from what airline did the deadheaders work? 2) People believe that IDB is determined randomly. It never has in my experience. 3) Why people aren’t more angry at the officers that badly injured this guy? If he was removed without violence, this incident wouldn’t have had the publicity it has. 4) What would happen if this was B6 instead of UA? Would the backlash be as great? I’m… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

What is the Chicago Aviation police? Are they really Chicago city police officers or more like Mall Cops. I really don’t know?

SirWired
Guest

Most airports of any size have a police force that is employed by the airport (and not the municipality containing the airport.) They can arrest people just like any other police officer can (and security guards cannot.)

Leslie in Oregon
Member

It is worth noting that in this case, it has been reported that the airport police who dragged Dr. Dao off the aircraft had received four months of training, far less than the municipal police.

TBL
Guest
It’s also worth noting the police gave the subject a lawful order to leave the plane and he refused. They gave him more than one opportunity to comply and he refused. They have a job to do and they aren’t there to beg and plead for someone to obey a lawful order. If Dr. Dao had simply complied with a lawful order, he could have pursued United on his own or in court and everyone could have gone on down the road without incident. If United could have handled this situation properly and on their own, there would be no… Read more »
Mark Skinner
Guest

Was it a lawful order? That’s surely the point in contention. If a court finds the order was lawful, you are right. If the court finds the order was not lawful. Well, unlawful demands followed by violence are what the courts are designed to punish.

Let’s see what the court says, eh?

Matt D
Guest
Great Op-Ed piece on the subject. QUOTE: “With real competition comes real failure, hopefully followed by bankruptcy and even liquidation, instead of American-style too-big-to-fail bailouts.”-unquote. The bigger, deeper, and underlying story here is that the airlines do this simply because they can. There is no real competition anymore. Bring back the days of choices, allow new start airlines. The competent ones will survive. The incompetent ones will not. I know CF is a staunch defender of “Employee Stability”, but you know what? That’s not the world we live in anymore. I don’t know that airline employees these days are rude… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
Remember the old tire commercial, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it? Well the airlines have broken it and rebroken it, and broken it and never tried to fix it? If they would stop trying to do what the other guy does, and start improving themselves, they might do something like make things better for passengers…you know, the people who pay their salaries and bills….which might help them be above the others and show more profit with increased passenger loads. People don’t mind paying more for something if they can see it’s a better value for the price. But today… Read more »
Bill Hough
Guest

I continue to despise and oppose the nickel-and-diming that has been the norm (except Southwest) for the last decade. Airlines should charge one honest fare and not tack on fees for every square of toilet paper. 10 years of this and I still hate it, so I get where that reporter was coming from

okeeffe
Member

[29419CEC00000578-3105960-image-m-34_1433175711009]

Brett,

I won’t jump into the ‘comments’ war on your article because that is futile. But one comment, that the airlines have not adjusted their marketing… sheesh.

I would have liked to have seen a price comparison reference; gee, I bought a $10,000 car and it doesn’t have any room in the backseat, no side airbags, no navigation system, no back-up camera and it is a stick shift! Wow, what a lousy car company!

Keep up the good work!

catherine.burnett
Member
Exactly! Makes me crazy to hear so many so angry about the airlines making so much money yet whining because they have to pay $35 to check a bag. Airline fares are the lowest they’ve ever been (thank you, deregulation), and now my airfare doesn’t include a fee for a checked bag because I am not going to check a bag. And the food–sheesh, people! You whined and moaned about how bad airline food is, you wasted most of what was served to you, and arly days, you whine because airlines stopped serving food. You don’t get to have it… Read more »
Bob
Member

Thank you!! Finally someone who sees what most people do not. Everyone seems to want something without paying for it or they want to be given something for a half hour delay or just have to be around grumpy people on a plane. Better then the bus or driving.

malbarda
Member
I am not sure if your comment was directed at me, as I talked about “poor” and “bad” marketing choices. The big three airlines (and many, many competitors) have NOT adjusted their marketing and now what they sell vs what the majority of consumers experience on a daily basis, and/or know what they will experience. The fact remains that while the front end of the plane gets upgraded, updated and innovated, the back end of the plane gets downgraded, cheapened and crammed. That is what people know, and they also feel like they’re being nickle-and-dimed on top with fees and… Read more »
Davey
Guest
Nobody in their right mind buys a $199.00 round trip on an airline they fly once or twice a year and expects Polaris service. It’s just insane to think otherwise. The only way one will eliminate this anger or anxiety is to eliminate first and business classes. That’s not going to happen. What you may be insinuating is the class anger that was pervasive in the last election. This anger occurs when a basic economy passenger sees Polaris or some other luxury service and thinks they are getting the screw put to them. Yeah, I get that but, you know… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
I simply have to push back at your characterization of the big 3 as having made no changes to their product while the low cost carriers have repeatedly upgraded their product. First, nearly all of the big 3 offer in seat AVOD on at least some of their domestic fleet. There are notable differences in what each offers and on what type of aircraft and it is not changing but AVOD does exist on at least some of the big 3 but does not exist on ALK or LUV. Second, CF can go thru the timing of when and by… Read more »
121Pilot
Guest
The back end of the airplane has in fact been upgraded. Leather seats are now the norm. You have wifi and a far far greater choice of inflight entertainment on most flights not to mention that in seat power is steadily proliferating. Personal space by and large has shrunk but you have only to look at JetBlue to see why. JetBlue offers what is essentially a premium product but by and large they are not able to demand and get even a small fare premium for that product. You mention Spirit and while it’s true their marketing fits their product… Read more »
Al
Guest

How can a $200 change fee which is levied even if a ticket is cancelled months before travel be justified? In such a case, certainly the airline hasn’t lost the opportunity to resell that seat. It’s things like that which make the public despise airlines.

Al
Guest

Whenever I travel, I dread traveling domestically in the US especially when traveling with UA and this was before the incident with Dr. Dao. However, when traveling overseas to Asia, that is when I really like traveling especially when I get to choose flying SQ or CX!

stogieguy7
Guest
For me, the cramming of more and more seats into the same sized cabin is a massive irritant. It’s one thing to be annoyed by poor customer service or to be nickel-and-dimed, but its another to have to physically suffer through a long flight. Oh, I’m 6’4″ and I am biased when it comes to this – and the trite reply that some of you may toss out there about “hey, just buy a business class ticket” is unadulterated BS! Yeah, so because I ended up being tall, I should pay a 400% premium on my ticket – to merely… Read more »
JRD
Guest

Just wanted to say great article, thanks for pointing out the structural issue surrounding public perception of airlines and its intersection with police violence.

I imagined that before this incident and Delta’s weather-operational troubles ATL there seems to be some positive movement in terms of trust and operational reliability, but seems to have been a fragile peace. Thanks again.

Anonymous
Member
I’m not seeing anyone else raising this – but I really object to very loud inflight announcements, frequently mid-way through the flight pushing the latest whizz-bang deal they have thought up. Frequently, they are made in the 90 decibel range (per my quite unscientific iPhone app). In contrast, I recently took a long distance bus trip in Mexico. The bus left on time, an attendant at the bottom of the steps welcomed us on board, offered FREE water, or soft drinks and a pretzel and the seats reclined, each one with it’s own TV monitor and constant entertainment. There were… Read more »
Jin King
Member
The customers certainly play their part in this too when they demand (and I do mean DEMAND) the absolute lowest fare.   Many will change airlines for $5 and most will change for $30-$40.  And they can find that $5 (or more) lower fare by going to Spirit or some other similar cattle car airline where they get the same thing….a crappy product.  So what is a major airline to do but jam in the seats, nickle and dime on the blankets and so forth unless they are happy to simply cede the bargain hunters to ULCCs?  I think the problem… Read more »
chris
Member
Good piece and it’s definitely brought up a lot of valid discussion points, most of which I agree. I know for myself the experience of flying for me has degraded over the years due to the crowded, tight aircraft and the lack of self-awareness by many of my fellow travelers…backpacks in your face in an aisle seat, etc. Boarding a plane these days is reminiscent of when I lived in Washington, DC and trying to board a Metro train during rush hour…crowded, people shoving and trying to get ahead of everyone else, standing in the way so people can’t get… Read more »
jeff
Member

Cranky,

I work in both aviation and parking… so everyone hates me! Airlines have it bad for a multitude of reasons on the PR front. Any economically rational decision is usually a negative from the customer experience standpoint, at least in perception. Having a business that is high in labor, capital, and commodity (fuel) use leaves little room to make a lot of profit on a % basis even in good times, and with the heavy pricing pressure do to a competitive industry despite consolidation means the ability to unilaterally increase revenue from ticket pricing is difficult.

Eric A.
Member
Just my .02: – The public perception(fed by dubious media narratives)is that consolidation over the past 10 years was driven by greed of 1%. Industry dorks know it was about long term survival but optics persist. – There was similar outrage at the oil industry when oil hit $140 p/bbl, gas spiked to $5+ a gallon and the industry posted record profits. Never mind there was more to the story, but once again it’s about optics. – IMHO Oscar M. is the best thing to happen to UAL in a generation….but super-container ships don’t turn on a dime and neither… Read more »
jaybru
Member
Interesting, to say the least! I see the UA pilots were fairly quick to get out a statement (UAL MEC Statement, April 13, 2017) finding blame: “This violent incident…was the result of gross excessive force by Chicago Department of Aviation personnel.” They follow that with: “No United employees were involved in the physical altercation.” and “This occurred on a Express flight operated by Republic Airline, as such, the flight crew and cabin crew of Flight 3411 are employees of Republic Airline, not United Airlines.” How do you tell the difference between the UA employees and those of Republic? Ttravel with… Read more »
SirWired
Guest

I think it’s valid for the United Employees to say “Hey, it wasn’t us”, but United, wisely, has not tried to distance themselves, the company, from Republic. (One of the few things they have done correctly.)

LittleBoyBrew
Guest

I was just traveling on United through Ohare over the weekend (and despite what my Twitter feed suggested, few people have sworn off flying United – the planes were full). One thing that struck me is that airlines market the dream – there were ads all over the airport touting their Polaris business class. That is nice, but most fliers cannot even dream of such as service, making their time spent in a cramped, uncomfortable, amenity-less coach compartment all the more miserable.

121Pilot
Guest

It’s no surprise that airlines spend their marketing capital on their premium products. Companies use marketing to drive sales. People who buy premium seats are often more concerned with product than price to a degree so it makes sense to heavily sell that product. By comparison economy seats sell basically on price and schedule alone so it doesn’t matter how you market them. Consequently it’s no surprise that United and others heavily market their premium products because that’s where their marketing dollars can actually make a difference.

dc.contarino
Member

You hit the nail on the head. In fact, this is one of the reasons I left the industry. It got old (and tiring) constantly hearing people talk down on your company, and wanting to step in and correct the people who had no clue how things worked. It just takes a lot out of you, especially if you’re like me and listen to what people say and want to educate them if they are incorrect. People love to hate airlines -I’d say even more than cable companies!

kenneth.velten
Member

Maybe we should have a day without flying to protest!!!

IO
Member

when pigs fly.

a pie in the sky.

anyhow, you get the gist of my opinion of a day w/o flying in this industry.

Sean M.
Member

Next year I most likely won’t be Executive Platinum on American due to job changes, but I will still have to fly, and I am not looking forward to experiencing things that I see today yet get a pass on due to my status (which I’ve had for about 5 years now … I’m so spoiled). Maybe its time to switch to Southwest and then just suck it up when I fly AA or DL to the odd place Southwest doesn’t fly.

IO
Member

you sound like the passenger SW has been aiming at since Kelly took over.

Tim Dunn
Member
Since UAL just reported their earnings for the 1st quarter and provided guidance for the 2nd quarter, even without any financial impact from the Chicago incident, UAL will likely underperform nearly all if not all US airlines on industry comparable metrics for both quarters. As much as some people want to argue that the US airline industry is very profitable, it is clear that the profits are not spread evenly across the industry. It is also clear that the airlines that are on the higher end of profitability are the ones that are capable of delivering a better customer sevice… Read more »
Mitch
Guest

I think that “Occupy Wallstreet” is the correct reference. Most of us are stuck in the back with ever declining space and poor service while the elite (who either pay or fly more) are showered with more and more luxury. It is class warfare plane and simple. The airline advertising also doesn’t help. It is not a kid imagining the fun in visiting Grandma anymore. It is the great Polaris seat with Sax Fifth Avenue Bedding while I am crammed in steerage.

Leslie in Oregon
Member
Thank you for this post, Cranky. I am a former Pan American World Airways purser who has been a frequent airline passenger (business and leisure) since I left Pan Am. I agree that there is a pervasive animosity in the flying public toward U.S. airlines, but I believe that its genesis goes back further than the imposition of à la carte fees. I first noticed, and myself felt, the resentment evolved into that animosity when the airlines started charging a fee for any change in reservation. That resentment grew into animosity as that fee grew into ever-higher amounts which now… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
you do realize that JetBlue, even without supposedly overbooking its flights, has had one of the highest involuntary denied boarding ratios in the industry? Let’s also be clear that there is a difference between overbooking and denied boarding. Airlines can overbook their flights all they want (accept more bookings than seats) if they get the math right and end up with the right number of passengers at flight time. The US government tracks denied boardings, both voluntary and involuntary but not overbooking. Further, on a number of metrics, low cost carriers perform lower than some legacy carriers so there is… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

I’m not a Southwest fan, but as one of the few airlines with no bag fees the get screwed in the DOT stats. Mishandled bags are per 1000 passengers. Not per 1000 bags checked.

Since many people don’t check a bag if they have to pay for it, Southwest’s stats suffer.

IO
Member

the lcc you mention are actually ullc. the very ones legacies are beginning 2 be more agresive towards. shall we see the legacies drop further? c’mon man.

Leslie in Oregon
Member
Thanks for the response, Tim. Re your first paragraph, see the Newsweek article for which I provided a link at the end of my comment. As far as my comment about being treated like a human being on Jet Blue, please note that I qualified it by with “at least on its transcontinental flights that I take.” None of those more than 75 (non-stop) transcons have involved any voluntary or involuntary denials of boarding, none have involved any mishandling of my always-checked bag, none have arrived at the destination late, and every one has been a more pleasant onboard economy… Read more »
Jose
Guest

“American has pledged not to take a confirmed customer off an airplane again just to let another passenger on”, so what are they are going to do with their concierge key guarantee?

Hey
Member
Once upon a time, passengers dressed to fly; men in suits with briefcase; women donning gloves and hats carrying cosmetic cases trailed by little ones wearing their Sunday’s best. Even into the 1980s, before flight, many of us would visit restaurants – such as Runway 84, some featuring aviation themes. Back then, flying by air was an experience. And then, Trailways Bus Lines went out of business; Southwest became model for airlines to model and voila! Just read where, this past, Air Marshall’s kicked honeymooning couple off United flight for helping themselves to seats – perhaps economy plus – that… Read more »
NICK
Member
Yes I agree with the joy of previous air travel and showing consideration of the staff. I deal with customer service in a restaurant. We have tables next to the window with a view. Everybody who comes to the restaurant comes for a special reason – Engagement, proposal, reuniting with family, birthday, 2nd anniversary, third anniversary, dog’s anniversary, and even one time a second engagement. People nowadays think they are more special than the rest, and through all these events people consider it as a way to get something special for themselves. The scenarios should have been handled like this.… Read more »
Hey
Member

I stand corrected. Just heard from reliable source : “They were asked to leave the plane by our employees and complied” and “No air marshal or authorities were involved. This ‘bad behaviour’ was international flight, where standards, mostly per Federal regulations, are generally HIGHER than domestic flights.

Yet, correction proves one must be careful of source(s), even NY Times.

Anyway, I sense rash of ‘copycats,’ hoping to profit, making all-out attempt(s) to get booted from flights.

Georget
Guest
It’s the customer service…. It’s horrible. And quite frankly the flying public are atrocious as well. Watching a flight attendant stand up and yell “YOU! SIT DOWN NOW!” on a flight from Tokyo to non American passenger, a United flight no less is a perfect example I personally witnessed of horrible flight attendant customer service. And it’s not isolated. USA flight attendants get away with bullying. Then they probably hate their jobs. Who in their right mind would work for the likes of Frontier or Allegiant or Spirit? Then there is the passenger ala 2017….flip flops/sweat pants/body odor/carry on bags… Read more »
NICK
Member

People want their iphones in one of 20 different colors, jeans cut in 50 different ways, and their burger done ‘their way’. But airline a’ la carte pricing – that’s what the nasty airline industry does.

Thor
Guest
The root problem? Selfish people! The solution, humility and working together. Can’t anyone see the guy who got drug out was no different than a child throwing a temper tantrum? Did the other people who were asked to leave the flight do this? NO, they were, applause please, civil and polite. They got up and left the plan. THEY are hero’s but nobody is thanking or applauding them. They helped in so many ways. Focus on the positive. Oh wait, that’s not what everyone else is doing and not nearly as fun. Cranky, you want to make a change? Find… Read more »
jonathan reed
Guest
The issue is how does a business treat its least profitable customers. Some businesses, like a law firm may decide not to take marginally profitable clients because an unhappy client can make trouble no matter how cheap the fee. Consumer businesses selling a standard product may treat all customers well, e.g., McDonalds tries to treat the value menu customers just as well as the folks buying the expensive sandwiches. But many airlines–I would exclude, for example, Hawaii Air–are totally transparent in the lack of esteem in which they hold their least profitable customers. You get the message if you board… Read more »
JuliaZ
Member
I’ve been flying Alaska for years, and enjoy it. I’ve also (recently) been treated very well by both American and United. In each case, I approached employees in a friendly way, smiled, and calmly asked if they could help me. And they did. Twice I was behind others who approached the airline employees with a lot of anger and attitude and things didn’t go so well for them. Maybe we should all be a little more patient, and a little more kind, and traveling wouldn’t seem so difficult. Pay for TSA Pre-check if you travel a lot – that alone… Read more »
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