Monday, April 1, 2013

Why Do Airlines Suck So Bad?

It may be because we don’t pay them enough.

Customer service has become so bad that I pay a travel agent to book all our flights, even the simplest. (Hi, Raman!) When an airline suddenly decided to cancel our flight and told us – and about 300 others – that it could get us home in a few days, Raman was able to see the available seats on all the departing flights and insist that the airline put us on one. He spent four hours on the phone that day.

A conservative of my acquaintance would like to blame the state of the airline industry on the government. However, the last time the airline industry was profitable was when it was regulated, before 1978. Customer service then was much better, too.

However, it was much more expensive.
In 1974 the cheapest round-trip New York-Los Angeles flight (in inflation-adjusted dollars) that regulators would allow: $1,442. Today one can fly that same route for $268. That is why the number of travelers has gone way up.
So we sit in crowded planes, munch potato chips, flare up when the loudspeaker announces yet another flight delay. But how many now will vote to go back to the "good old days" of paying high, regulated prices for better service? 
Ummm, me?

Well, wait … we can’t spend that much more. (We visit my family twice a year.)

One alternative, companies that sell you a (tiny) share of their jets, would be even more expensive.

Virgin Airlines has positioned itself as somewhat more expensive but better. But the concept isn’t catching on. And unfortunately, Virgin doesn’t fly where I go.

And I’m not even considering the environmental cost.

No easy answers.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing about this. When I asked Google the same question as you have posted in the title, this is what came up. I suspected that it was something to do with costs.

    I have traveled domestically in China a few times in the last few years. I found the quality of service to be better than the airlines in the United States. I didn't really do a comparison of costs per kilometer, but I think there is no crazy difference like before deregulation in United States. On the other hand, the most profitable companies in China are owned by the state.