Topic of the Week: Do the Little Things Count?

US Airways

Yesterday, US Airways told us that it was upgrading its offering in coach on long haul flights over the Atlantic and to Brazil. Travelers will now get free wine with their meal and free headsets. Does that matter to you? Will this make a difference?

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25 comments on “Topic of the Week: Do the Little Things Count?

  1. The little things do count. Though I think that sometimes you don’t realize how important they are when they’re happening. It’s their absence that makes them feel more important. Specifics:

    I was 1K on United for three years. And you get used to the upgrades, the never being kept on hold on the phone, etc. But it becomes wallpaper – you take it for granted. But after switching companies and not flying United, I went from 1K to nothing on American. All of a sudden, the little expected things from 1K never looked so good.

    I used a bunch of BA points and AMEX reward points to book a first class Cathay ticket from JFK to HKG. And on the flight to HKG, I was the only passenger in the 6 seat cabin. They left the bottle of champagne for me. They remade the bed every time I got up to stretch or use the bathroom. I know, I know – it was first, and on Cathay to boot, but I’ll never forget it. And a few years later when I had to go back to Asia, I chose a connection on Cathay vs. a direct flight on a different carrier.

    Wine may not seem like much crossing the US, but the flight after, when you don’t have it, it’ll seem really nice. And basic.

  2. Yes it matters to me and does make a difference. The cost to them is probably pennies per passenger, but it buys tremendous good will. While other carriers still offer this as a standard provision, anyone not doing so looks like they are penny-pinching.

  3. So they will pack people in coach and shut them up with a free glass of wine.

    While a free headset would be nice, I always think on a long haul flight they should be free anyway.

  4. Yes, the little things are nice, but when you’re packed in a 10-abreast row on a 777 in Y on a 15 hour flight (thanks, EK) and subjected to money grabs like the new $200 change fee, does a free glass of wine really make passengers feel that much better? I guess the airlines are using the revenue from the extra seating and change fees to subsidize my glass of wine?

    And for that matter, I would gladly take non-surly FAs and gate agents over a free headset and free drinks. That, in my opinion, is what makes flying painful these days, as opposed to having to pay for a headset or alcohol. Yes, not all airline employees are surly, but there’s really nothing worse after sitting in stuffy meetings all day than to be barked at rudely by a gate agent while you’re trying to get home.

  5. I’m interested in little things like getting where I’m going on time and with my luggage. I don’t drink alcohol when I fly, and I can always bring a book to entertain myself. But I do appreciate that these amenities are available.

    What I find interesting is that airlines have been slowly upgrading their product offerings, yet most blog commentators (those of us who comment on websites like this) fail to acknowledge these improvements, seem to live 20 years in the past and whine about things from consolidation and “nickel and diming” the public (even though overall fares and fees for air travel are still lower than they were 10 years ago, adjusted for inflation).

    What’s made these positive changes possible? Profits.

  6. Yes it does matter. Less stuff for people to worry about. I’ve never really bought alcohol on a flight. Maybe here and there. But if the wine was free I might go for it. I don’t want to make myself into a “take it just because it’s free” person. But that would be a nice touch.

  7. This is something that I think of lot of their competition does, and that they should’ve been doing anyway. It matters in showing how lacking service is on U.S. based airlines. Ultimately, if I can get to my destination, that’s the most important thing, but small details like this do contribute (generally positively) to the whole experience.

  8. At first, I was impressed with this offer, but as I considered it more closely, it lost its value. Basically, what they are telling you is that for US$22, you are getting an upgraded meal, a glass of wine, and headphone. First of all, the trans-Atlantic flights I have taken in the past two or three years have included headphones for those few people who do not use an iPod. Secondly, the meal would need to be a significant upgrade to make it worth the value. Personally, though, I will continue my pre-flight tradition – meal in the airport before boarding followed by a Nyquil as I sit down and then straight to sleep. Otherwise, if your flight leaves at 8:00 PM, it is 15 minutes before flight attendants get up to start serving drinks, then another 45 minutes or so before they serve dinner and then another 45-60 minutes before they pick up the trays. By this time, it is about 4:00 AM at your European destination, leaving you about three hours to sleep! So bottom line, no, I will not be buying the upgraded meal on the eastbound flight and most likely not on the westbound flights to/from Europe.

    1. No, you’re mis-interpreting this. There are two different pieces here:

      1. Economy passengers will receive free headphones and a glass of wine with their meal, period. This has nothing to do with whether or not you spend the $22 for the premium meal.

      2. If you choose, you can pay $22 for an upgraded meal. As I said above, even if you don’t do this, you’re going to get complimentary headphones and wine with your meal.

  9. No. I done drink I own Bose headphones, I don’t use US carriers outside US, and US airlines beef to learn from foreign carriers how to run an airline. Atitude needs to change before business can change.

  10. It’s called service (something US Airways traditionally demonstrates very little of…so I am surprised this is coming from them.) But, I think it allows them to at least compete from a service perspective on transoceanic routes. Other carriers would do well to follow suit. United should particularly pay attention!

    1. Service-wise while flying on US (I am Gold status with them), I have genuinely never had a problem with (or seen a problem with) their staff. My problem with US on the distance flights is that their seats are the tightest of the Star Alliance airlines I have traveled with. In the past twelve months, I have flown internationally on US, South African, and United and the US seats are BY FAR the least comfortable. Even though I am Gold with them, I’ll be flying UA to Italy this summer and in the future will most likely be flying a OneWorld airline overseas after the merger unless something significantly changes on the international seats. So a “free” glass of wine isn’t going to be enough to lure my dollars when flying overseas!

  11. Now that the US industry is down to 3 trans-oceanic carriers…yes these things matter. As long as we have a pricing equilibrium then it will be ‘back to the future’ on soft product enhancement to differentiate brands. Unfortunately, this will be done within the confines of new reality parameters. We will never go back to the Y class Pubs, sommelier selected wine parings and ‘we fly all jumbos on transcons’ gimmicks.
    MeanMeosh is dead on about where the money is coming from to pay for these frills. The cost of little things like free wine, printed menus, a snack box on 5 hour transcons and meal buy-ups is a pittance compared to revenue gained from fees. Additional cabin staffing would be nice and meaningful….but we all know that’s not going to happen.

  12. The little things do count and cost the airline very little actually. Most passengers will not consume more than a split or two and these days…most people have their own headsets, so they will not have to provide many….but the good will is great.

  13. Only ONE glass of wine WITH the meal!? I’m assuming you have to pay at all other times the cart comes down the aisle? Big deal. Delta has gratis wine and beer the ENTIRE flight internationally.

  14. Why did they ever drop free wine and headsets in coach on trans-oceanic flights? It was a stupid move that shifted people to foreign airlines which were not perceived as penny-pinching their customers.

  15. It makes a difference as long as it’s drinkable. Out of my SYD base, Qantas, Virgin Australia, and China Southern (!) (as well as many other non-US carriers, I’m sure) all serve entirely drinkable wine out of a bottle (750 or 375 mL) with a vintage and an appellation. Delta serves undrinkable swill out of a box. I no longer even bother on Delta. All else being equal, I’ll choose the foreign carrier because of small niceties like that. Of course, all else (schedule, price, availability of exit row seat, lounge access based on my elite status, etc) is rarely equal.

  16. I used to do a lot of work in Asia until 2009 . I am an Australian, and would fly Qantas, until I discovered Thai Airlines.

    I never had to pay for wine with my meal in ” Y” Class, and they came around topping up our glasses as requested. Never had to pay for headsets either. Did over 100 flights on Thai.

    Seems the American carriers need to look at how its done in Asia. I have also flown United from Australia to LA and return, and North West from Tokyo to Detroit on a few occasions in the 90’s. Both were awful experiences.

  17. Of course the little things matter when you are actually on the plane.

    Do they matter when you’re booking your ticket? Probably not. Unless the prices are the same, or within a dollar or two, I doubt anyone will choose an airline because of free headphones or wine.

  18. Yes, it matters and I was appalled when they stopped it years ago. UA/CO had to restore it on the Asian flights due to competition. There have been rumblings that they would take it away again, but with this AA move over the Atlantic, they may think twice, or, maybe even restore it on their Atlantic flights. Even if they use box wine, as does Delta, it could not cost that much or reduce income (from the sales) that much.

  19. Headsets? Don’t care, I bring my own, which is better quality and more comfortable.

    Free wine? Surprising to see from US (what’s AA’s policy on that? Early alignment, perhaps?). Won’t necessarily make me pick the carrier, but they don’t look quite as cheap anymore compared to their European competitors.

  20. it makes it better i guess.. have traveled (paid tix) business class to Europe on us airways it is ok maybe they will upgrade the business to better business and some perks to boot..that would be good.

  21. That they stopped doing this while their competitors continued to do so speaks volumes about their in-flight product. At least as part of AA, they will be shamed into at least keeping up with the Joneses in this regard. In fact, that’s probably what this is…

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