There’s a reason airlines are failing…
It’s not the fuel prices. It’s not the ultra-competitive environment. Sure, these play a factor in the equation, but they are not the end-all and be-all. There’s a reason airlines like Southwest continue to be profitable while others like United are failing.
The reason is simple: customer service. I had never had a problem with United until today (which is probably why I’d flown with them so much in the past). However, today I decided for some reason to look over my itinerary for my trip to Kona at the end of the month. As I was looking at my reservation I noticed something…I booked my trip into the wrong airport. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I made a mistake somehow.
In order to correct this mistake, I called United. I’m thinking that they can just switch the flight and I might have to pay a nominal difference in the fee for the flight, if anything. Nope. First off, I get somebody on the phone who is half a world away in India. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I heard this because all that will follow is policy, policy, policy. United wanted $150 just to change the reservation and then I had to pay any difference in airfare, which was $850 because my flight is within two weeks. WTF??? This conversation ended quickly.
Luckily I was able to book a bookend flight on a local carrier for a total of $150 and although I’m not happy about it, it was my own mistake and I’ll live with it. What I’m annoyed about is the abysmal “customer service” that United provided me with. It’s annoying enough that airlines charge for everything from checking a bag to getting a blanket nowadays, but to try to charge this much just to change from one flight to another is ridiculous.
What added cost do they have in changing from one flight to another? None. That’s the answer. They aren’t losing any money by me switching from one airport in Hawaii to another 40 minutes away. I love how everyone always gets up in arms about $200 cancellation fees over their cell phone contracts, but you never see coverage about these fees. At least the phone cancellation fee can be justified by the fact that your phone was heavily subsidized when you got it (yes, it was…trust me…I sold phones and managed a store for several years before law school).
So, how does this amount to a reason airlines are failing? Simple; I’ll never fly United again. I’ve changed flights so many times with companies like Southwest without incident and although Continental professes to charge the same fee, at least I was able to get somebody who spoke English on the line and who understood the meaning of customer service (I’ve been able to get the fee waived).
One of these days the airlines will realize that customer service will be their downfall. All the little fees are ticky-tacky, but whatever. Most people I know don’t need a blanket on a flight, can bring their own drink onboard, and aren’t going to fuss too much about having to pay to check a bag. However, when you combine all of these things with a complete disregard for providing exemplary service to your client base, you’re in for big, big trouble. People won’t stop flying, but they’ll seek out airlines that provide them with the best experiences.
That’s my rant.