Six Ways To Improve Air Travel Instantly (#GotBitcoin?)
Flying doesn’t have to be such a grind—here are realistic suggestions for changes airlines could make to win back the customer loyalty they’ve lost.
Travelers love to hate on airlines. Airlines sometimes do bad things to their customers, dinging them with add-on fees, penalizing them when plans change, squeezing them into shrinking seats and bathrooms and occasionally leaving them stranded for a couple of days. Six Ways To Improve Air Travel Instantly
So if you could wave a magic wand and improve air travel, what would you do?
We’re not talking about fantasies like first-class seats for $10. Airlines need to be able to pay their bills. But are there practical fixes that could make flying better for people who don’t have superelite status or the cash to buy flying beds?
The question is a serious one for airlines. Airline loyalty is in decline. Henry Harteveldt, founder and analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, says his surveys show only 21% of U.S. airline passengers considered themselves loyal to any one airline last year. In 2000, that number exceeded 40%, he says.
Surveys show that newer planes, bigger overhead bins, faster Wi-Fi service and greater reliability have driven airline customer satisfaction higher. But airlines still trail many other industries and typically rank close to health insurers and the postal service near the bottom of those customer-satisfaction lists.
Here are six practical ideas to benefit customers without bankrupting airlines, gleaned from conversations with smart people in the industry, frequent fliers and my own experience of nearly 24 years covering airlines.
1. Reduce Or Eliminate Change Fees. Change fees charged by U.S. airlines cost consumers $2.7 billion in the 12 months ended Sept. 30. The penalty does not fit the crime.
When airlines change schedules or cancel flights in the U.S., they don’t compensate passengers. They rebook, sometimes at great inconvenience and extra cost to travelers. When plans change for passengers, often by circumstances out of their control, they have to pay a new, often higher fare, plus the change fee—typically $200 on a domestic ticket and as much as $400 on an international ticket.
Southwest doesn’t charge change fees and has the longest record of profitability in the industry. And Frontier recently instituted a fairer change-fee schedule. Make a change 90 days or more before departure and Frontier charges no fee. Inside 90 days but at least two weeks before departure the fee is $49. Less than two weeks before departure, Frontier’s fee is $99.
Here’s Another Idea: Sell us an annual change-fee subscription. For $200 or so, you’d buy an exemption from change fees for one year. That’d build loyalty to whichever airline you subscribed to.
Airlines argue that without change fees, which add up to roughly $3 per passenger on airlines not called Southwest, they’d have to raise fares to compensate for no-shows. You might argue that an airline would get back that $3 per person if it made it easier for customers to use their product, thus attracting more customers. And with far more sophisticated data these days, airlines can forecast no-shows more accurately and manage the inventory without punishing customers.
2. Bring Back Interlining. Interlining is when one airline sends a customer to another carrier because of a flight cancellation or overbooking. It lessens disruption, and used to be required before 1978, when the industry was regulated. Now most airlines say they’ll do it only at their own discretion, which is to say rarely, and only for their best customers. Southwest flat-out doesn’t do it.
When your flight gets canceled, airlines typically say you get the next available seat. Except with full flights and priority systems that rebook people with high fares and high status first, fliers might have to wait a couple of days for the next available plane. Meanwhile, other airlines may have flights leaving with empty seats.
You can buy a ticket yourself on another airline and get a refund for your canceled flight. But that can be expensive. Airlines charge each other much lower prices so they can deal with disruptions expeditiously. They should do it more.
Air transportation is a hybrid public utility. Yes, airlines are private enterprises. But they use publicly-funded facilities and rely on taxpayer-funded services, like air-traffic control. Government could mandate more interlining, or airlines could voluntarily step up and agree that it isn’t acceptable to leave lots of customers on airport cots when a solution may exist a few gates away.
3. Create Acceptable Space Minimums. Legroom and bathrooms have gotten too small for many travelers. We need to restore some grace to the coach cabin. Airlines should pick their minimum, be consistent across their fleets and publish the information so customers can know what they will get and make a choice on what’s important to them.
With seats, you do have choices. You can pay more for extra legroom. With minuscule bathrooms, your only choice may be to hold it.
There are a finite number of square inches inside an airplane. Airlines argue that bigger lavs mean smaller inventory of cheap seats and fewer people getting to visit Grandma. But puny potties also mean that people who paid high fares get stuck with less than they paid for. There are minimum service levels, and airlines have sunk below the minimums for many travelers.
4. Bring Back Coupon Books. Various airlines have tried this over the years, none with long-term success. They always find minute-by-minute control over pricing maximizes revenue.
But fares no longer have the range they used to—you rarely see $2,000 domestic coach fares anymore. We’re all paying something closer to average. Why not offer a coupon book for off-peak travel and one for peak-period travel, or one for bookings made 30 days or more in advance and one for bookings made 14 days in advance? Sell them for specific routes.
The average fare was 15 cents a mile in 2017 at American, Delta and United, according to the MIT airline data project. So for a 1,000-mile flight, sell coupons for $150, or $300 round-trip. That’d give you average revenue. Maybe peak-period coupons cost $250 each way, giving airlines a better-than-average yield and travelers lots of certainty.
Coupon books lock in loyalty and make airlines easier to use. Many classes of people who need to travel would buy in: work commuters, divorced parents, adults caring for family in other cities, vacation homeowners and couples dating long-distance.
5. Make Family Seating Easier To Reserve. This business of blocking most, if not all, of the window and aisle seats, ostensibly for frequent fliers, has got to change so families can get assigned seats together. Blocking all but middle seats from free seat assignments really just forces people to pay fees. It’s an underhanded business practice, especially on routes to places like Orlando, where a large percentage of passengers are families.
6. Slow Down Price Changes. What other business changes prices so rapidly? Sure, the price goes up when someone actually buys the last seats at the lower price. But airlines change prices based on searches and shifting demand forecasts. Prices go up and go down. Shoppers get frustrated when they see one price and come back to buy an hour or two later only to see a different price.
Does it really pay to create that anxiety and frustration? The stress of air travel begins with the buying experience. There are plenty of things airlines could fix to make flying less nerve-racking.
Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated.
Monty H. & Carolyn A.Go back