Monthly Archives: June 2011

Americans Are Unsatisfied with US Airlines…Who Cares?

Last week the American Customer Satisfaction Index released its annual findings on consumer satisfaction with airlines and the numbers didn’t look good. In short: people were satisfied with Southwest, not satisfied with anyone else, which has pretty much always been the case in this study.

When you dig into it, though, you find out that people are really just unhappy with being charged higher fares (hotels got higher satisfaction ratings this year as rates have leveled off or dropped) and additional fees.
This all begs the question: What the hell difference does it make? Spirit Airlines isn’t in the study, but based on what we’ve all heard about Spirit they would probably be at the bottom of this list. But they are at the top of the list when it comes to profitability. If you were running Spirit would you be concerned about a low customer satisfaction score or would you be patting yourself on the back for coming up with the fees that lead to profitability.

You might say, “while low satisfaction scores many not matter in the short term, it’s not tenable to have your customers unhappy with you long-term.” You might say that, but when it comes to airlines, you would be incorrect. Most travelers find themselves either in a monopoly situation, where there is only 1 nonstop option where they’re going, or where their corporate travel policy compels them to fly one airline. Add that to the incredibly effective frequent flyer programs, and you find that the most profitable frequent flyers don’t have all that much choice at all. Infrequent travelers matter less, as they’re going to be price-shopping anyway.

Years back an article in Harvard Business Review discussed how unless you have the absolute highest level of customer satisfaction scores (say, a 7 out of 7 in the scale they used) it will have little-to-no effect on your company’s profitability. Which is to say, unless you make customer satisfaction a cornerstone of your business (ie, Zappos) it’s not worth making much of an investment there. Airlines can capture so much business through corporate travel contracts and frequent flyer loyalty that customer need only be somewhat satisfied for the carriers to run a profitable business.

And let’s be honest here – when airlines have made customer-friendly moves, customers give them no credit for it. Fares during the recession period in 2008 were ridiculously low. Customer satisfaction did not go through the roof. I point frequently to American Airlines adding More Room in Coach, only to find out that customers were not willing to pay a few extra dollars for the added space versus their competitors with no added legroom. Customers whine about fares and whine about cramped quarters. But when given the option to fly a competitor with more space, they didn’t take it.

Don’t expect airlines to be tripping over each other to win back your hearts and minds after seeing this study. In fairness, the airlines do a pretty OK job with customers – they generally take care of their more frequent customers and offer the others relatively affordable travel. For every person who swears that they will never again fly such and such an airline, I would guess that exactly 100% of them never stick to that pledge. We’re all too cheap.

US Airways: Baggy Pants Not OK, Man Wearing Womens Underwear OK

An odd one: A man dressed only in women’s underwear, platform heels and a sheer sweater was allowed to board a US Airways flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Phoenix less than a week before a New Mexico football player was removed from a flight on the same airline because he baggy pants were sagged so low that his underwear (men’s, I assume) was showing.

Setting aside the question of why TSA would have allowed a man dressed thusly to pass through security, should US Airways have a policy toward what kinds of clothes are acceptable for passengers to wear on a plane? While awaiting a security line last week prior to a trip to Amsterdam, I saw a man dressed in the manner typically associated with Jesus. Jesus Christ, that Jesus. Long flowing robe, rope belt, sandals. He was also carrying a strand of beads. TSA allowed him through. Also, he was headed, I could see on his boarding pass, to Tel Aviv. I’m not sure whether airport security should see that and say that we are not allowing a gentleman wearing an outfit most closely associated with Jesus to board this flight to Tel Aviv. Or whether airport security says something to the effect of Oh, there’s just another guy dressed like Jesus heading to Tel Aviv.

But the two people here – the cross-dresser and the low-pantser – were treated differently, and it pains me to suggest that race (LP is black, CD is white) played a factor here, but I’m not sure how else you explain it. I was wondering how it would have played out had the cities been switched, had CD been boarding a flight in San Francisco and LP boarding the plane in Ft. Lauderdale instead of the other way around. I don’t know, as I’m sure San Francisco has seen its share of cross-dressed passengers, and Ft Lauderdale its share of baggy-pantsed travelers. I guess it doesn’t matter.

So should airlines have a policy about how passengers are dressed? I’m sure they do, as we’ve had this issue before when a passenger was wearing a t-shirt with an saying on it that was not appropriate language for a planeful of passengers, some of whom were on the younger end. That passenger was removed from the plane. Someone had some common sense.

Why would the CD be allowed on the flight wearing only underwear? Who knows. Why was a guy wearing baggy pants kicked off a plane? Who knows. Maybe when it’s a white guy it’s “eccentric” and when it’s a black guy it’s threatening. And how did no passenger on the plane call over a flight attendant and say, “excuse me, but I’m not particularly comfortable flying next to a gentleman wearing only women’s underwear.” (If he were dressed in women’s clothes, rather than women’s undergarments I don’t think there’s much to discuss here. But he was not.)

Perhaps this is just two odd examples of low-level staff not doing their jobs well – LP shouldn’t have been kicked off the plane and CD should not have been permitted to board. Staff made two poor decisions, and those decisions happened to get published in the newspaper. But I can’t help but think that football player has now been dragged into a discussion equating him getting kicked off a flight, probably because he was dressed in a manner often associated with black teenagers, with a clearly disturbed individual dressed in a bra. And that reporters have likely called his house and asked what he thinks about being kicked off a plane for being a young black kid while this nutjob is allowed to board dressed like a 60-something year old Victoria’s Secret model. And that he then has to come up with an answer that is not, “you’re comparing what just happened to me to THAT?” while he sits there wondering how it came to be that Jesus walked through security, a nearly naked man walked on a plane, and he had to answer questions about whether that made sense.

How Did USA Today Publish a Story that Delta Would Not Fly Jews to Saudi Arabia?

Last Thursday USA Today ran a story on their website with the headline, “U.S. Jews not able to fly on Delta flights to Saudi Arabia.” That story was written and published by a news service called RNS (Religion News Service) that was syndicated and re-published on USA Today’s website. The piece suggested that Delta, because of its SkyTeam alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines (which is owned by the government), would not be permitted to fly Jews (the story said “U.S. Jews”) nor bibles to Saudi Arabia because of that country’s (ridiculous, obviously) restrictions on Jews and bringing non-Islamic religious items into the country. The article took Delta to task for putting up with such anti-semitism, etc etc etc,

Then the blogosphere (of course) went nuts, and when the blogosphere goes nuts, it does not fact check.
USA Today did fact check it soon after the piece was published, and pulled it, instead adding a corrected version in its place. This being 2011 and the Internet being what it is, that was too late and Delta has had to deal with cries of anti-semitism.

The actual story is that Delta will have an interline agreement (which allows airlines to seamlessly transfer baggage between airlines), not a codeshare agreement (which would permit tickets to be sold on another carrier).
That fact got mixed up with the incorrect notion that Saudi Arabia does not allow Jews to enter the country. That is not correct. That said, it does not allow people with an Israeli passport to enter the country, as the Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

That didn’t get everyone to calm down, though, as many were wondering why Delta would have an agreement with any country that is as restrictive as Saudi Arabia.

However, that is really an unfair burden to put on Delta. How do we determine where it’s acceptable that they fly? China isn’t exactly known for their open attitude toward dissent in the country and Delta flies there. Hell, if it’s religion that should drive this there are plenty of Arabs who take issue with Israel. Or should they fly to New York? They just passed gay marriage which was opposed on religious grounds by no small number of people.
Meanwhile, and I won’t get into this, it’s not as if the U.S. doesn’t have a pretty tight relationship with Saudi Arabia. I’ll leave that for someone else to get into, though.

The only other note here is that in USA Today’s follow-up article about this uproar, they quote Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst at Forrester Research, saying that Delta has been unfairly singled out. I mention this, though, because he is referred to as “Henry Harteveldt, a Jewish American and a vice president of Forrester Research.” Why was his religion included? Are we supposed to read it and say, “Well, if this Jewish guy is OK with it, so am I?” If he were Muslim, would they have mentioned that? What if he had been beaten up on the playground when he was 6 by a kid from Saudi Arabia, would that have mattered? If his Jewish American status didn’t matter, why was it included?

(Thanks to GetReligion.org)

Spirit Airlines Announces $5 Fee to Have Agent Print Your Boarding Pass

Spirit Airlines announced they will begin charging $5 if you have an agent print your boarding pass at the airport beginning November 1st. The airline says it will lower all fares by $5, suggesting that those who print their boarding passes at home will actually save $5.

And because Spirit is Spirit, the headline on the press release is “Spirit Gives Consumers What They Want: Airline Lowers Fares on All Non-Stop Flights and Offers Savings for Checking In Online,” which is another way of saying they’re charging you if you don’t print your boarding pass at home. True, they will be lowering base fares, but I’m not sure how much that actually matters as Spirit has so many sales and coupons available every week.

Beginning June 26, 2012, (yes, that’s next year), they will charge you $1 to print your boarding pass at the airport.

Before you start whining about this, keep in mind that Ryanair charges 40 Pounds, or about $65, to print your boarding pass at the airport, as British singer Lily Allen recently found out.

Oh, and don’t bother whining about how you won’t fly them again: they made 12 cents a share last quarter, as people continue to swear they won’t fly them, and then do.

JetBlue Promo Code: 15% Off Flights in September and October

JetBlue is offering 15% off flights September 6 – October 5th as a consolation for not offering All You Can Jet this year. Just enter the JetBlue promo code FRIENDS11 to receive the discount. Book by June 21st.

Malaysia Airlines: No Infants in First Class

There have been so many discussions about whether children should be allowed in premium cabins, but for the first time that I can think of, an airline has made a ruling in favor of peace and quiet: Malaysia Airlines has banned infants from its first class cabins on flights between Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, London and Amsterdam.

Before you start rejoicing or complaining, the move was made because first class cabins on the 747-400s flown on these routes are not able to handle bassinets. Babies are still permitted to fly business class, and I am still permitted to be annoyed whenever I walk through the business class cabin and see babies sitting there.

Pants on the Ground: Football Player Removed from Plane Because His Pants Were Too Low

A University of New Mexico football player was arrested at San Francisco International Airport after he refused to pull up his pants when he boarded a flight. Deshon Marmon was asked by US Airways gate agents to pull up his pants, which were sagging somewhere between his butt and his knees, before he boarded the plane. He did not. When he sat in his seat (with his pants, as the song goes, on the ground – or at least near the ground) he was asked by staff to leave the plane. He refused.

After 15 minutes he finally left, upon which he was arrested for trespassing and held on $11,000 bail.

Marmon’s mother said her son was a bit of an emotional mess because he had just attended the funeral of a friend.

10,000 British Airways Bonus Miles for Renting 3 Times with Avis

Pretty nice British Airways car rental promo just announced: Rent 3 times from Avis between now and August 31st and you’ll get 10,000 bonus Executive Club miles (in addition to the regular 1 mile per dollar).

Rent one time and you’ll get 2,000 bonus miles, twice and get 3,000 bonus miles (the third time gets you the final 5,000 miles).

You must book a car no smaller than Group C and reservations must be made using a British Airways/Avis Worldwide Discount (AWD) number: Gold members N744400; Silver members N744300; Blue members N744100.

India’s IndiGo Launches First International Routes

India’s IndiGo Airlines announced its first international routes to begin in September, and there aren’t any surprises in the bunch. Airlines in India need to fly domestically for 5 years before they are permitted to fly internationally, and IndiGo is using this opportunity to fly some routes once a day that already have very heavy competition on them. To wit:

Delhi-Dubai, where they are the 5th carrier on the route that will now have 9 daily flights.
Delhi -Bangkok, 8th carrier, 51 weekly flights.
Delhi-Singapore, 4th carrier, 5th daily route
Mumbai-Bangkok, 8th carrier, 48 weekly flights
Mumbai-Dubai, 4th carrier and 10 daily flights
(Thanks to Airline Routes for the data)

To be fair, Indians require a visa in advance to all but a handful of destinations (including those above), so airlines tend to focus on the same routes. IndiGo is going to try to grab traffic by offering some pretty reasonable fares (Rs 9999, or about $225, round trip), so that should help. But the pattern in India for new routes has been for airlines to cut fares to unprofitably low levels, then hope to drive the other airline out of business (or into a merger, which only makes them stronger).

Last Day for $1665 Round Trip Business Class Fare from Newark to Zurich

Today (June 14th) is the last day to grab Continental’s $1665 (tax included!) round trip Business Class fare from Newark to Zurich. Flights are good through September 4th. Other cities are available for just a bit more (west coast is about $2k round trip). American, Delta and United have matched from limited cities.