Airline Service – It’s (Partly) Our Fault

A holiday weekend is over in the U.S. and for many who spent part of it in an airplane, that portion of the trip was likely far from pleasant. But as Tim Winship says in his frequent flyer blog, we need to look in the mirror while complaining because those cheap airfares have cost us plenty.

I conveyed that exact sentiment in Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, after leading off from this quote by RyanAir founder Michael O’Leary: “Air transport is just a glorfied bus operation.” After all, if we go for the cheapest flight every time, then there’s no point in anyone offering a better service for a higher price. American Airlines tried offering more legroom, but in the end they said “screw it” and jammed in more seats–they weren’t getting enough extra business to justify the more comfortable cabins.

The problem I have with this argument though, is that some airlines do a better job than others and this does bring more customers their way. There’s a good reason Southwest, JetBlue, and Frontier are doing well in the U.S.–they’re far more pleasant to fly than the nickel and diming competitors. Unless you can fly enough to hit elite status with a legacy U.S. airline, there’s little incentive to use them. This is not the case overseas, where the legacy airlines are still usually superior in terms of service and amenities–especially the airlines from Asia and the Gulf States.

But I am feeling a little better about the legacy lines these days because I finally managed to cash in some frequent flyer miles for two different trips. Plus Delta bumped me on my last flight with them, resulting in another freebie. I’ll gladly put up with some crappy service and tiny hub planes for that price–free.

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