Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We Have No Sympathy

(Disclaimer: Guess I’ve just been tired and grumpy in the heat.)

Not too many years ago they blamed their troubles on the 2001 recession and 9/11. Then it was sky-high fuel prices. Next it was the world economy falling into the toilet in this current recession. Now it’s the (somewhat related) crash in business travel. The dinosaur airlines have an excuse for their every failure to create a successful business model.

Did the airlines not think it strange that the price of a business-class ticket should be 3, 4, 10 times the cost of an economy fare? Did they not think the arms race of more-and-more amenities in the front of the plane was a race all were doomed to lose? Did they not think that they were alienating customers with opaque and constantly changing prices; with fees after fees; and with reduced amenities for the majority of their passengers? Did none of the airlines (except for the “budget” carriers like Southwest or jetBlue) understand that the everyday vacation traveler was (or should have been) the bread and butter of their profitability?

We can’t afford to fly in the pointy end of the plane, so don’t personally know if the service in business/first is as miserable as it is in the back of the bus. Probably just less miserable. But a few thoughts come to mind: Treat all customers equally and fairly, and maybe you’ll develop some brand loyalty (see Southwest or jetBlue). Second, treat all customers with respect, and maybe you’ll survive (see Southwest, jetBlue, Alaska, or... oh, never mind). Airlines, just price your product fairly for the consumer, and at a point where you can stay in business. You do want customers, and to stay in business, don’t you?

UPDATE: The July 23 Wall St. Journal illustrates why the airlines are in trouble. In an article headlined, “Delta, AirTran Offer Grim Outlook for Airline Industry, the Journal reports this: “To cope with the downturn, Mr. Anderson [Richard Anderson, Delta CEO] said the airline would continue to focus on maintaining liquidity, reducing its fleet and network size, and implementing the cost-saving initiatives it identified when it acquired its Northwest Airlines unit last year.”
Don’t you think that the word “customer” would appear somewhere in the above quote? In fact, in the entire article, the word “customer” isn’t used once.