Are they really that bad?
Today, I did what many business travelers do every day. Took breakfast in one city, took meetings in another and made it home in time for dinner. Simple enough, but the intricate processes which must align for this to happen are no small feat. Airlines such as Delta, United, Alaska JetBlue and American have invested heavily in passenger friendly technology like mobile boarding passes and streamlined operations to boost on time performance, making travel more seamless than ever before. All of this had me asking one question: why do I give U.S. airlines a hard time?
As they say, “if the shoe fits”. Despite all the positive moves, passenger investment and fleet upgrades, U.S. airlines have a unique knack for bad press. Without looking too deep into the history books, things like…
- Dragging a peaceful paying passenger down an aisle.
- Taking away full sized carry on bags.
- Increasing the cost of checked baggage.
- Body slamming an elderly man for no reason.
- Lobbying to end passenger protections and remove fare transparency.
- Calling the cops on a woman when her bag was lost and she took action.
- Collecting a record 4.6 billion in checked bag fees.
- Removing award charts, making points impossible to understand.
- Selling economy seats as premium economy.
- Refusing to rebook delayed economy passengers onto other airlines.
- Attempting to limit airline competition in the U.S. and stop new airlines.
Don’t really help to endear the airlines to customers.
But with that said – it’s a free country, and in true American fashion, the almighty dollar is king. Airlines don’t operate on fairness and they never will. When times are good, they reap whatever they can possibly sow, and right now the airlines are reaping in historically positive numbers. On time performance is up, tech is improving and fleets are slowly but surely modernizing. So why give them such a hard time if planes lift off and touch down on time?
Airlines in other parts of the world are forced to play fair with passengers under circumstances like delays and cancellations, guaranteeing overnight hotels, even paying actual cash in some circumstances. In the U.S. the list of passenger rights is far from a novel. There hardly are any, other than denied boarding. When these airlines take the already lax laws, which don’t require them to put people up for overnight delays, or to book onto alternative airlines when flights are cancelled and then take things even further with unfriendly and frankly unnecessary travel snubs, it just stokes the fire. It’s almost impressive how transparently uninterested they are in 99% of customers.
I arrived at LaGuardia at 5:30 AM for a 6AM flight and made it without incident. The flight took off on time and landed early. The same happened in DC, arriving at the curb at 3:35 for a 4PM flight, and returning promptly to New York with an on time arrival. Mobile boarding pass and responsive airline apps made it easy to navigate through the airport, and for all its many shortcomings, TSA PreCheck was fantastic. Wifi is almost everywhere, airport lounges are on the up, and fares are low. Basically: products are getting better, and if U.S. airlines would just stop scoring own goals by making their businesses so easy to hate, I might not have a reason to criticize much longer.