Like Detroit, the US airline industry needs an overhaul. I have been traveling an average of 75,000 actual miles per year for the past 10 years and have seen service only going downhill. Airlines are blaming on unions, high gas prices and corporate cut backs on air travel instead of looking at itself.
Let me first address the unions. Airlines have been laying off people left and right. They’ve been reducing in flight workforce for quite some time. I am sure the frequent travelers do notice this trend. Automatic check in kiosks have replaced many people at the airports as well.
Higher gas prices should no longer be the issue. It is back at the $50 per barrel range. Yet customers are still hit with a fuel surcharge.
I am on a commercial flight in December 2008 and the flight from Phoenix to Portland is packed. So it is definitely not that people aren’t traveling. People are traveling but they are no longer loyal to any airline like back in the 90s. The reason is the lack of service and support for the airliner’s bread and butter customers - people like me flying on behalf of the company or client and does it weekly.
Here are some known facts for business travelers (airline’s most profitable and loyal customers) and many don’t admit it:
- Most business travelers don’t pay for their own tickets so they want to accumulate as many miles for personal use as possible.
- 99.9% business travelers have status on one of the major airline alliances.
- All business travelers want to be upgraded if there are seats available in first or business class. Some are willing to pay for it because they can charge it in. They are probably willing to pay for leg room.
- Business travelers want to get to their destination as soon as possible, especially when they’re going home.
- All travelers, business and vacationers, would like a plug to juice up their laptop or watch a DVD on the plane.
- No one wants to sit in a middle seat.
- Not everyone enjoys airplane food regardless if it is from first class or supposedly made by an executive chef.
- Business travelers don’t check bags. Most know the boarding drill from TSA checkpoint to putting bags in the overhead.
- Many business travelers have tight schedules, i.e., meeting ran late or unexpected traffic at a foreign city. They may not be able to check in 45 minutes ahead of time.
- Timing is of the essence. Most of my colleagues don’t get to the airport hours before take off and lounge around the airport. Not many belong to airport lounges except when they are forced to connect or their company pays for it. The old perk of using an airport lounge for last minute check in’s have been replaced by kiosks and TSA barriers as some lounges are behind security.
Using the top 10 guiding principles listed above, an intelligent airline executive should be able to address each issue and easily bring back their customers. I can say some airlines are using some of the guiding principles to help itself but none have made significant impact to increase loyalty or love.
Over the next few weeks, we will list recommendations as well as comparing different airlines in terms of service and what they’re good at and what they need to improve.