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Why Fewer People are Flying part 3

Five more reasons - obvious to us, if not to the airlines
 

It seems that no matter what happens, it isn't the airline's fault.

And it also seems that anything good that could be enjoyed on a flight is now being eliminated, or charged for.

Part three of a three part series on why fewer people are flying - please also visit

1.  Facts, figures, fares and fees
2.  Full and fewer Flights, better alternatives

3.  The total unpleasantness of air travel today

 

 

Let's face it - these days a visit to the dentist is more pleasant than a flight on a domestic airline.

Are the airlines deliberately making the air travel experience as nasty as possible?  And why do they hate us so much?

Most of all, why are they now surprised when, in response to the insults and injury they've heaped on us, we now attempt to use their services as little as possible, and - when we do - we no longer see any sense in paying anything more than bottom dollar for the rock bottom service levels they offer?

This is most starkly shown by the recently reported increase in intercity bus travel.  Yes, some people are now preferring to take a long distance bus rather than fly.  That's how bad things have become.

Reason 6,7,8 :  Alternatives to Flying Are Now More Appealing

What does it say about air travel when people are switching from planes to buses?  Yes, things have now got so bad that people are choosing a bus journey as preferable to a flight.

There are at least three reasons why this is so.

6.  Airlines have become capriciously adversarial and treat their passengers like enemies

Do you remember the story of the attractive woman who was refused permission to travel on her booked Southwest flight because a flight attendant decided her skirt was too short?

Or the woman who was arrested and taken off her JetBlue flight because she filmed some video on board?

Or the passenger who wasn't allowed to wear his T-shirt because it said something in Arabic on it, also on a JetBlue flight?

Or the nine passengers removed from an AirTran flight because a teenage girl onboard thought she overhead them saying something threatening - and they were subsequently refused permission to fly on an alternate AirTran flight, even though the FBI had cleared them of all wrongdoing?

Or the passengers falsely accused of threatening flight attendants on various different flights?

And so on and so on.  If you complain about poor service, you know you now run the risk of having the flight crew gang up on you and accuse you of being a security threat, and arranging for the compliant TSA and law enforcement authorities at the very least to arrest you and grill you for hours, and possibly charge you with draconian federal crimes that will cost you huge amounts of money and time to defend.

When we travel, we risk becoming the victim of a terrible system that makes us guilty until we can prove, beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt, our innocence, and subjects us to the capricious and sometimes dishonest accusations of airline staff, with little or no recourse on our part.  We're terrified to do anything except sit meekly and humbly accept whatever poor service is dished out to us.

Who wants to risk this if they can possibly avoid it?

Message to airline executives - Okay, you don't need to fully copy the Nordstrom approach to customer service, but at present you treat us like we're all convicted criminals being flown to a federal penitentiary, not like the often senior business people we actually are.  We deserve respect and courtesy and fair treatment as your customers and as the people who actually provide you with the income you desperately need.

7.  Air travel has become unreliable

The good news is that the cut-backs in flight numbers are slightly relieving some of the stress in the nation's overloaded air traffic control system and airports, as can be seen from this chart that shows the total number of domestic US passenger flights, both per month and on a 12 month rolling average.

The number of flight delays has slightly dropped during 2008.  But - and now the bad news - the average length of delay has increased.  Plus, with nearly full flights, if your flight is cancelled, it might take a lot longer to find an alternate flight with available seats to accommodate you.

Bottom line - things are worse, not better.

The ugly reality that we all know, and which many of us experience at first hand, is you can't rely on any flight getting you anywhere at any time with any degree of certainty.  If you're traveling for an important meeting or event, you really need to schedule a flight to arrive the previous day 'just in case'; and even then, there's no assurance of getting where you need to be in time.

News flash to airline executives - air travel is supposed to be a quick and convenient way to travel.  You're making it slower (scheduled times to fly between many city pairs are now longer than they were ten and twenty years ago), much less convenient (remember the good old days when we could get to the airport 20 minutes before a flight and still be certain of making the flight?), and vastly less reliable.  You're marginalizing yourselves out of relevance.

8.  Service cutbacks make even a 'good' flight bad

Most of us remember the (in)famous example, some years ago, of the airlines discovering they could save money by removing one of the leaves of lettuce from the first class salads.

Since that discovery, the airlines have continued to take away service after service, amenity after amenity.  Want a pillow or blanket?  These days you'll find they're likely unavailable, or if they are available, you'll have to buy them rather than borrow them for the flight, for free.

The latest example of a service cutback would be laughable if it weren't so trivial and pathetic.  US Airways has removed the coat hangers it formerly had in first class to hang passengers coats with.  The cost saved is probably too small to measure (how much does a coat hanger cost, and how long does it last?).  The impact on the first class travel experience it offers its passengers is also minor rather than major, but when combined with all the other reductions in the once truly first class experience, it provides yet another reason for passengers not to pay extra to travel first class.

This is a telling example of how the airlines have become obsessed with removing every possible 'frill' on a flight, no matter how petty the removal of the frill may be, or how inappropriate it may be to remove it.  Yes, the airlines are focused on service, but they are focused on removing and reducing their service rather than improving and enhancing it.

Most of us now perceive first class as being nothing more than a bigger seat at the front of the plane, perhaps with a free drink and bad food too, and there's less and less reason to pay over the odds for these minimal benefits.

It seems to me - I don't have the data available to back this up - that the airlines have recognized this too, with smaller premiums being attached to the extra cost of a domestic first class ticket than back in the 'good old days'.  With all the many different ways you can upgrade to first class for free or at discounted rates, one has to wonder just how many first class fares are ever sold these days.

Which begs the question : If cheapening the first class product has brought about a reduction in the income associated with selling first class fares, has the airline really benefitted at all? The answer is clearly no.  Airline executives, please take note.

Reason 9 :  The Security Charades in the Terminal

Five year old children and US Senators are told they can't fly because their names are similar to those of possible terrorists.

Senior US government officials and foreign dignitaries subjected to 'secondary screening' when going through airports as if they are potential terrorists (as well as little old ladies).  While, at the same time, a refusal to 'profile' passengers causes the politically correct TSA to look the other way when people matching the same profile/background as that shared by most recent terrorists and hijackers are allowed through security without hindrance.

TSA staff - and their supervisors - refuse to accept as ID official US Passport cards, even though they are listed on the TSA's own website as a valid form of ID (they are the second item on the short list).

We have to take every piece of metal off our person (and remove our non-metallic shoes, too) to go through a metal detector, but the metal detector can't detect (non metallic) explosives we might have wrapped around our waist.

We are limited to no more than 3 ounces of liquid per bottle, because more than that might be dangerous, we're told; but apparently a terrorist with 9 ounces of dangerous liquid would not think of splitting it into three 3 ounce bottles and then recombining it once passing through security.

We are allowed to travel with a pair of scissors with pointed blades less than 4" long, but not a 3" pocket knife or a box cutter with a 1" blade.

Any time the TSA are tested by their own people, more than 20% of guns slip through their system undetected.

We can never be sure if we'll have to wait five minutes or fifty minutes in line to go through this security nonsense.

And so on and so on and so on.  The security charade is an affront to our intelligence and common sense, but if we try and make fun of it, we run the risk of being thrown in jail.  No jokes allowed.

That's a great way to start any flight, isn't it.  Sure makes me want to fly some more.

Reason 10 :  Frequent Flier Rewards No Longer Reward Us

Remember the good old days, when 20,000 flown miles would get you a free ticket anywhere in the US?  And, by 'free' I mean totally completely free?  And remember the good old days when the airlines would sometimes do amazing things like have a triple-mileage bonus promotion all year long?

Ah yes, the good old days.

Flash forward to the present.  Now you'll find yourself liable for all manner of fees and taxes and other charges and surcharges when you try to redeem miles for a free ticket, and you'll find that you need to use plenty more than 20,000 miles to get the ticket, too.

Most egregious of all charges is a new charge, added on 1 December 2008, described as a fuel surcharge fee, by British Airways on their award tickets issued by Alaska Airlines (and possibly through other airlines too).  With a great sense of timing, this fuel surcharge fee was introduced at a time when BA was paying about one third the cost for fuel that it had been paying six months before, and less than at any time in the last three years.

This fee - between $300 and $600) - actually exceeds the fare they sometimes charge for discounted tickets they sell.

Yes, your free ticket, requiring 65,000 miles or more to redeem, costs you more than you'd pay to buy a normal ticket.

We all know of people that have truly taken additional flights in the past just to earn the extra miles they'd get from those flights.  Does anyone care so much about frequent flier miles now?

Frequent flier miles were formerly the golden handcuffs that tied us to airlines and encouraged us to pay extra money to fly with our preferred mileage partner.  By reducing down to almost zero the value of these miles, the airlines have removed the incentive for us to fly more, and to pay over the odds for airfares in return for getting valuable miles with a preferred airline partner.

Just like the airlines are zeroing out any reason to pay more to fly first class, they're also zeroing out the last shreds of brand loyalty we might have had for one airline over the other, and the last remaining reasons to pay extra to fly on a preferred airline compared to an alternate airline.  Even if passenger numbers remain the same, we are less willing to pay any sort of premium for our flights, because there's nothing extra we get in return for our extra payment.

Our paradigm has shifted from viewing some airlines as better than other airlines, to now viewing all airlines as being as bad as each other.

The airlines are not only discouraging us from flying, but they're also discouraging us from paying anything other than the lowest possible fare when we do fly.

Conclusion

The last five years have seen a steady erosion in airline service.  Is it any wonder that passengers are finally saying 'Enough already' and reducing their air travel plans any time they can?

We have all had to endure poor or nonexistent service, unexplained delays, rude and abusive personnel, staff that were even absent from where they should have been (including unattended gates in the hour before their flight time and in cases as much as an hour past the scheduled flight time), additional fees that were poorly explained and often arbitrarily or improperly implemented, damage and or loss of our luggage, airplanes with defective seats, lights, videos, etc, onboard personnel who would ignore the simplest request, flight schedules that are mostly works of fiction, flight cancellations announced with little or no warning (often with explanations that proved to be false), extensive delays in retrieving baggage when in fact it actually did arrive with our flight (but was thereafter 'misplaced'), excessive hold times on the phone for the simplest requests, arbitrary changes in fares (online) that often were increased (but never decreased) in the minuscule seconds between when we decided on a flight and when we tried to book it just a few keystrokes later (can anyone say 'bait and switch'), and so on and so on.

Add to this massively unfair fees and high fares, and there's nothing positive at all about the thought of having to fly anywhere.

Remember when flying was glamorous (as were the flight attendants, too)?  When we'd dress up for a flight?  Now we dread a flight, and dress down, because we've nowhere to hang our jacket, and might have an uncaring flight attendant spill something on us.

Is the startling collapse in air travel due to the economic problems we're facing?  Or - do you possibly think - the ten preceding factors might have something to do with it as well?

Part three of a three part series on why fewer people are flying - please also visit

1.  Facts, figures, fares and fees
2.  Full and fewer Flights, better alternatives

3.  The total unpleasantness of air travel today
 

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Originally published 9 Jan 2009, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

 


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