There was a time when good customer service was taken for granted.
And while the “customer experience” has been elevated to a religion in many service industries these days, modern air travel in the US takes the opposite approach.
At FlyersRights we regularly get horror stories of airline staff scolding passengers like schoolchildren. These unwitting customers, shocked to learn they’ve been bumped from their flights or arrived a few minutes too late to check in, are treated with utter contempt. The same is true when a flyer has the audacity to ask about delays that condem them to missing connecting flights, dooming vacations or business trips.
The formula for the airline industry seems to be: If it’s your fault: prepare to pay; if it’s the airline’s fault: don’t expect regret or reimbursement.
Last week the travel website, Skift
coined a new term: “Hate-selling.” Or, shaming customers into purchasing extra services during the buying process.
Skift points out that all the US airlines have redesigned their sites to maximize upselling, and ‘unbundle’ everything, in order to inflate fees or upgrades. They do this by hate-sell, implying: “Here’s what you don’t get, cheapskate!” Yes, it’s passive-aggressive, used-car selling at its best, or worst.
Proof That It Pays to Be America’s Most-Hated Companies
As passengers’ animosity is intensified by more fees, the airlines are enjoying lower fuel costs and surging profits. Last month, American Airlines reported
their most profitable quarter in its history, earning $1.7 billion.
Analysts say that fees for checked baggage and ticket changes are the two biggest contributors to the sector’s total profit. Now it can cost you up to $200 dollars to alter your itinerary. The airlines like to defend these change fees by pointing out that they also sell “fully refundable” tickets without such fees, effectively blaming consumers for failing to read the fine print.
This argument comes close to a sham, as it ignores the fact that the fares without fees are much more expensive than their non-refundable counterparts.
In reality, this pricing actually serves to protect the change-fee scam, because no rational person would buy a ticket at three times the normal price instead of one at the regular lower price, plus a potential change fee. It just creates a false appearance of choice that the airlines exploit.
Also, beware that a “refundable” ticket does not necessarily mean “fully refundable”. United bills its Flexible Fare as refundable, but a recent $1,200 flex fare to Shanghai carried a $300 fee for ‘CANCEL/NO-SHOW/REFUND’. The only way to know what the fees may be is to read the opaque Rules & Restrictions page.
Last month the New Yorker
asked if high change fees were a problem that competition could solve. In an ideal world, yes. But the airlines find it more profitable to collude instead of compete when it comes to fees, despite this being a country where price-fixing is allegedly a felony.
The DOT is supposed to prohibit “unfair” and “unreasonable” practices in air transportation. For that reason FlyersRights.org has filed
a petition requesting the DOT and Congress rethink what’s fair and reasonable and impose a change fee cap of $100.
The airlines’ lobbying group, Airlines For America, is fighting
hard against this, but it is worth remembering that they, like the banks, have been subsidized by taxpayers against financial failure.
In exchange for this a safety net, the public deserves more in return.