Take Our Airlines…Please!
I’m a pretty devout capitalist, but sometimes there can be such as thing as redundant competition. Do we really need so many bad airlines in one country as there are in the US?
Compare a flight on Singapore Airlines or Gulf Air to one on Delta. Being stuck on the latter will make you want to cry from then on out. If you’re taking an international trip, especially a round-the-world one of some sort, expand your horizons and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Take that flight on Royal Nepal, Royal Jordanian, Taca or Lan Chile. If you can manage to get onto a foreign airline, with the exception of a few duds like Aeroflot, you’ll see how far we’ve slipped. Even when your foreign airline experience is bad, it’s usually bad in a comical way, not in a “the Greyhound bus is better than this” way.
Last week Orbitz quietly raised the fee it charges passengers booking tickets, now $6 to $11 per ticket depending on the airline. A few days later, their entire site crashed. They blamed it all on Oracle software, but maybe it was some real Oracle getting back at them.
They said the increase was to pay for “increased customer services,” such as “flex-search,”—whatever that means. Isn’t this really just a way to make customers pay for web site enhancements? And wait, isn’t Orbitz owned by the major airlines anyway? So isn’t this just a way for the airlines to squeeze another dollar out of a ticket? The answers are yes, yes, and yes.
“But it’s only a dollar increase for most tickets,” the Orbitz Director of Communication would surely say. True, but on top of five more dollars that also weren’t in the price a while back. And in nearly any of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, six bucks buys a lot, like lunch for two, maybe four people.
But this is nothing new. Somewhere along the way the major US airlines decided that a really great strategy would be to make themselves as similar as possible and piss off all their customers every chance they could get. Oh, and change the prices every week, in complicated and sneaky ways, so that everyone would always feel they could have gotten a better deal if they had just timed it right. The only ones who clung to notions of transparency and old-fashioned customer service, Southwest and JetBlue, are the only ones making a profit. Imagine that. Next thing you know the others will try charging for airplane food. Ooops, too late.
Out this week was news that the number of passengers bumped off US flights during the first three months of the year was up 16%, to 10,200 passengers. Delta accounted for almost a quarter of those. Most passengers end up with a free flight out of the deal, but they’ll be doomed to spending a few more hours of frustration trying to cash it in later. I saw a question on a travel message board last week where a guy was asking for suggestions for obscure cities where he could have fun for a weekend. He had tried to cash in his bump certificate for a free flight to five different cities where he wanted to go, and was told nothing was available for the rest of the year! So he was now trying to find an unpopular place that was worth visiting, so he could finally use the ticket he had sacrificed his seat for. How pitiful is that?