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Just When I Thought Airlines Would Start to Turn the Tide…

Posted on : 10-02-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service


First I want to applaud the crew of US Air flight 1549.  The calm and cool demeanor of this hard working crew really came through in this incident.  It is the type of crew you hope for during any flight (and truthfully the type of crew I have usually seen on flights).  They did a fabulous job in saving the lives of the passengers and the crew.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to see their accolades, especially when they came on the field for the Super Bowl.  They are the ones that truly deserved a standing ovation.

A few weeks ago I started to recieve the Wall Street Journal print edition.  Years ago when I worked for an investment firm I received the paper each day and enjoyed reading it.  I forgot how much I missed it.  The funny thing to this is I received the paper because of Skymiles from Delta Airlines.  I am actually now receiving a number of magazines due to an offer from the airline.  My wife told me I would receive a number of blog posts by reading it each day, and she was right.  The trouble I have had was narrowing what I wanted to talk about.  I hope to do a better job in the future.  This brings me to an article I read today:  “Why Fliers Can’t Donate Unused Tickets.”

This article points to a number of flaws within the airline industry.  First and foremost is the various pricepoints for most flights.  The article in summary states that you can not donate unused non-refundable tickets for charities like, the Make a Wish Foundation (one of my favorites).  There are a variety of excuses that the spokespeople use, such as costs (like they would not have a fee for that), security concerns (TSA says no problem), fraud, hording of tickets, potential resale of tickets (oh no, someone else could profit off of the various rates for airline tickets).  Ultimately this would all be solved by having single prices for routes and not have cheap prices one day and expensive prices another day.

Now truthfully I do not anticipate the airline industry to change their pricing model immediately (although I would love it if one did).  But this was not a difficult piece to differentiate yourself from competitors and put a nice foot forward.  I am sure there was much discussion regarding what would be said to the reporter regarding the issue of donating unused tickets.  Instead of these variety of excuses, wouldn’t a brand have done wonders in differentiating themselves by saying something like “that would be a great way to help some charities that can benefit from our services and we are working on a program to do that easily with certain approved charities.”  I know if I would have read a quote like that I would be much more likely to select that airline.  It would have even been better if they said, “hey that makes sense and we will implement that.”  Okay I am pushing it with that quote.

After my last post on airlines, I started to notice minor things within the industry that I was thinking we were on the brink of something changing.  After the crash of US Air flight 1549 and the reaction to the crew and US Air toward the crash victims, I thought things would change.  In fact I wrote a post but never published on how great US Air was trying to make sure the passengers of that flight were cared for.  I actually wanted to write kudos to them for a job well done.  I was comparing the handling of that accident to one from another airline in Colorado.  It was a definite improvement.  Unfortunately this article took an already battered industry down another notch.  And, in my opinion, that was their own doing by the manner they responded to the question.  Now I would anticipate some backlash regarding donating tickets, and then eventually companies changing policy one by one.  How long do you think that will take?

UPDATE:  Just as I was going to bed, I noticed a link on the Consumerist regarding United Airlines discontinuing their India call center for complaints in favor of written complaints.  Okay things might be going a different direction.  Check out this Seattle Times Story:  “United to Stop Taking Complaints by Phone.”  That is one way to make complaints go away.  Now to be fair they will take complaint from their largest Customers.