Monday, July 27, 2009

Ramblings on the Airline Industry - Part I

I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t set foot on an airplane for business in over a year. For the 8 months prior, I lived and breathed United Airlines flights between Chicago, Denver and Salt Lake City. I have fancied myself a bit of a miles and airline expert since I started the weekly Monday – Thursday journey across time zones. Although I haven’t traveled nearly as much in 2009, I have tried to stay on top of the latest events in the industry. A few quick observations that confuse/amuse me:

- Miles - Earn Them But Don’t Use Them: I’m not sure why miles are so plentiful these days but it seems like most major carriers are offering discounts on purchasing miles, more tie-ins with partners such as hotel chains, restaurants, or pretty much under the sun. Despite an abundance of miles, cheap fares and empty planes, airlines are even stingier than usual to let us redeem these hard earned miles for flights (,0,2459626.story). I guess I’ll just have to keep earning those miles and save them for a rainy day.
- To Fee or Not to Fee: Having status on United allows me to escape most of the headaches felt by the infrequent flying community. The only fee I have bemoaned is the close in ticketing fee of $75-$100 airlines have levied for purchasing tickets with miles within 21 days. United dropped this fee this week, though I don’t know for how long. I wish I knew the logic for dropping some fees but keeping others (e.g. bag fees, etc). I assume baggage fees are tied into weight which ties into the price of oil, which is tied into the less than adequate job airlines did with fuel hedging in the last 2-3 years.
- Consistently Inconsistent: My biggest complaint about the flying experience is the lack of consistency between employees. How can one flight attendant be accommodating, funny and helpful, and the next one quiet or surly? Why is the rule of thumb for calling customer service ‘If you don’t like the answer you receive from one agent, hang up and call again until you get the answer you want to hear?’ Some would argue that the low cost carriers are in the market to commoditize the industry. If this is the case, shouldn’t you expect some sort of consistency when you fly?

These observations and many more are argued on blogs and message boards by airline pundits who know more than I do. Arguing about these issues is a bit of a hobby, and if there was a clear explanation for each of these points, I admit I would need to find another way to waste time. But as someone who pushes for transparency wherever possible, I can’t help but get frustrated when logic is defied…and there are no straightforward answers.

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