- Airlines have worked hard to improve air travel, but have also done things to make it miserable.
- Much of it is driven by pressure to increase profitability.
- Behavior such as overselling flights, cramped seating, and oversold flights top the list.
Recently, I wrote an article about all of the good things airlines are doing to make commercial air travel a better experience. And to be honest, the airlines are doing more good things than many would expect, ranging from much-improved safety to snazzier in-flight entertainment.
Now, I figure it’s time to write about the things airlines in the US and abroad are doing that has contributed to passenger misery.
In that regard, the imperfections of modern commercial air travel are many and varied. However, having covered the industry over the past few years, it is my belief that no airline actually wants to brutalize its passengers. However, they have mastered the dark art of understanding what its passengers are willing to forgo and how much they are willing to part with of additional amenities.
Like any profit driven enterprise, the root of many of its problems lie with its need to appease investors, show growth, and increase profits. For instance, American, Delta, and United are three of the four most profitable airlines in the world. The trio routinely delivers profits and margin exponentially greater than its rivals in Europe and Asia. And yet, quarter after quarter, their management teams are pushed to return more and more by Wall Street. The result is the implementation of strategies that are a detriment to passengers.
Here are a few of the things airlines are doing that are damaging to the passenger experience.
À la carte pricing.
In recent years, airlines around the world have unbundled their economy class services. As a result, passengers now have to pay extra to check bags, select their seats, and be served a warm in-flight meal. While the airlines say the majority of its customers prefer this à la carte pricing structure, it remains highly controversial.
Unbundling allows passengers to pay for only the features they absolutely need. Additional amenities would then be available as optional extras. In theory, this should deliver cheaper prices to consumers while allowing airlines to cut down on operating costs. While ticket prices have come down marginally, the auxiliary revenue generated by the additional fees have become a cash cow for airlines. According to the CEO of one low-cost carrier, the future of air travel will likely see airlines depend more on auxiliary revenue than income from tickets sales.
In addition, the advent of these unbundled fares has created an unpleasant maze of extra fees that can cause a once affordable airfare to balloon. At the same time, checked baggage fees have forced people to rely upon carry-on luggage. This has turned the boarding process into a nightmarish mad-dash for precious overhead bin space.
For the past couple of years, American, Delta, and United have been trying to sell the public on the merits of basic economy fares. All three have made it clear that the fare class is targeting a very small, ultra-price conscious segment of the market.
In other words, basic economy allows the big three a means to price match ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier without sacrificing the price premium they can charge for their main cabin products.
According to Airways senior business analyst Vinay Bhaskara, most airline customers shop based on the lowest advertised fare without regard for additional fees.
As a result, the spartan nature of the basic economy experience will usually induce passengers to pony up the extra cash for the main cabin ticket. Voila, more revenue.
Same plane, more seats.
Like most businesses, unit costs play a major part when it comes time to answer to investors. For airlines, it’s a measure called CASM or Cost per Available Seat Mile. In other words, it is how much it costs the airline to fly one seat for one mile. Sometimes, airlines will up gauge to larger aircraft, allowing them to reduce CASM by spreading the cost of operation over a larger number of seats.
However, larger planes are not always possible, so they simply cram more seats into their planes. This results in more seats per row and more rows per planes. For passengers, that means say goodbye to legroom and elbow room.
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