Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
The total number of people flying commercially is expected to approach four billion this year. That’s a lot of people experiencing the mess that passes for air travel and its perceived benefits. In the past 10 years the quality of air travel has declined to such deplorable levels it’s a wonder planes and people still fly.
The airline industry is rife with misleading advertising. Airline executives seem confused about what customers want. Current advertising campaigns reflect out-of-touch management; people who clearly never travel in a coach seat.
Travelers want to get from point A to point B with a reasonably priced ticket in a seat that does not cut off circulation in their legs. They want to depart and arrive on time—with their luggage. That’s not a lot to ask but airlines struggle to deliver even the most basic services. This epic failure is reflected in the irony of airline advertising.
What the Airlines Sell
In days gone by the airline’s job was to sell you on flying. The challenge was getting people on a plane rather than selling a particular airline. Travelers were skeptical and fearful of flying. Ad agencies went to great lengths to glamorize air travel, including the uniforms of the cabin crew, then called stewardesses. 1
Times have changed. That genre of advertising no longer makes business sense because the public is on board, literally, when it comes to air travel.
Ads today play up features and benefits, bragging about routes, seats, and amenities Jennifer Aniston expects, elevating the brand while knowing most of us don’t travel on anything but a coach-class ticket.
Airlines enlist famous names to tout their perks; United uses Matt Damon and Delta uses Donald Sutherland. American opts for no famous voice-overs. Their newest ad hopes to convince you with this video, clearly placing the blame for unhappy travel on you!
The Justice Department does investigate and fine airlines, especially after a series of mergers approved by them put much of the competition out of the running. Carriers are fined large sums for deceptive advertising, yet all continue to do it. These fines are paltry sums. They pay them and find new ways to deceive the public.
Lies They Tell You
Airlines work from a script designed to tell you what you want to hear. It’s not the truth, and they know how to spin it. Here are the top five:
- Weather Delay
Blaming the weather for your delay or cancellation is the airline’s most common excuse and passenger complaint. If a flight is called off because of severe weather the airline’s contract lets them off the hook. A delay caused by Mother Nature means the carrier is not obligated to spend thousands of dollars in hotel and meal expenses and you sleep in the chair with a $5 bag of Cheetos.
- Awards Programs
The cost of these programs is baked into your ticket so it pays to sign up. All airlines have award seats at regular redemption levels, but they’re only available when an airline projects the seat will fly empty. Blackout dates have been replaced by tiered rewards and there are many restrictions. Peak periods—any day that’s not a Wednesday—require more points.
You get points two ways: by signing up with the airline itself or by signing up for a credit card that offers reward miles. Some credit cards work on any airline, others are for specific airlines. The most costly way to use points is redeeming them on the same airline because their preference is for paying customers. Redeem them on partner airlines where you will have more flexibility. Only full-fare tickets can be upgraded with points.
- Lowest Fares
Air fare can only be hiked so much before people reduce the number of trips they take. Reduced flights, grounded planes and reduction in services all impact air travel. Airlines have stripped away every benefit from the ticket you purchase so it includes nothing but the seat you sit in—and it’s the worst seat on the plane. Want a better one? Get out your wallet.
More leg room, exit rows, and seats close to the front are premium seating. The ability to check or even carry a bag, make a change, or select a seat all comes with a fee. Expecting a meal? Credit card sales only and it’s a $10 sandwich.
A 1996 airline ticket has nothing in common with a 2016 ticket. U.S. airlines are estimated to bank an estimated $80 billion in ancillary fees for things that used to be included in the cost of your ticket. Baggage feels alone account for 20 percent of that revenue. Flying is not what it used to be.
- You’ll Make your Connection
They know you won’t but they are required to say you will. Experienced travelers know exactly how long it takes to get from one of end of any large airport to the other when changing planes. Frequent fliers like me have learned to allow plenty of time between connecting flights and take direct flights whenever possible. The legal connection time is 45 minutes, but you will need at least 90 minutes for you and your checked bags to make the change.
- The Myth of Customer Service
Most airlines have relocated customer service to an off-shore call center. They are neither customer nor serviced oriented, working from a script designed to make you hang up in frustration. You get slightly better service from a US call center.
Non-US carriers like Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates rank highest for customer service. Holding the worst position in the US is Spirit Airlines (if you’ve flown them you know they earned it) and my favorite Jet Blue holds the top spot.
Air travel is not likely to improve in costs, services or advertising. Flyer Beware.