January, 2013:

“How Low Can You Go” in Airline Customer Service?

TouchdownIs a “deal” really a deal when you book a flight on a “discount carrier”?

Are the days of customer service really gone in the airline industry? Are they all competing to be cheapest? We all know that “cheapest” means barely meeting the customer’s needs as one cuts cost so low.

I don’t normally rant, but my experience with airlines comes from the days of Wardair with its Royal Doulton China, hot towels, filet mignon, dessert trolleys and so much more. After my recent family holidays, I am sad to say that airline service has come to an all-time low. I ask: Do we need to revert to better days where the flight was part of the journey, not the inconvenience?

Under a bit of protest, I decided it was best to save a few dollars on the flights. So off to the Internet we went to shop for a “deal”. The family found one!! Wow, really the price was shocking. Unfortunately, what I’ll call “à la carte services” were more shocking!!! And I just heard Ryan Air is making about $35 million extra dollars on the “extras”. Good model. Maybe, for now. But let’s look at those “services”.

A La Carte Services
Here’s how additional “services” added to the price and took away from our travel experience!
• $35 each way for checked bag (add $70)
• $35 each way if the carry-on has wheels (add another $70)
• $50 for each bag over 40 lbs (add $100)
Since checked luggage for most of us coming home from holidays was a few pounds over at check-in, we all repacked our bags, (which prolonged check-in to almost 2 hours). And even though we’d checked in online and printed boarding cards, there was no separate line or kiosk for those who had checked in online.
• $14 per seat so our family of four could sit together in the back rows. (Seats closer to the middle or front were priced higher.)
• Additional fee for pre-boarding; we declined

To further reduce the airline’s costs, in-flight amenities were reduced or removed:
• Seats didn’t recline
• The seat pocket had been removed to allow 1/8- inch more leg room (leaving no room for papers, magazines, snacks or garbage).
• No air vents
• Reading light flickered (so I turned it off).
• No in-flight entertainment of any kind (not even for purchase).
• Leather on my seat was peeling back on the seat portion, so the plastic edge poked into me the entire flight.
• No pillows or blankets available to pad the seat from the aforementioned plastic poking me (let alone add warmth or comfort)! I used my own coat to avoid the misery.
• No warm drinks (i.e. no coffee or tea) even on 7:00 a.m. flights!
• Toilets smelled like baby diapers and air freshener.
• The final straw: no free water! You have to buy it with your credit card for $2. (They did give me a glass of ice that melted. Yay for the wonderful flight attendant who thought of that solution when I needed to take an aspirin.)

And, to top it all off, our flights were delayed both ways: outbound for one hour for de-icing as one of only two airplanes leaving the airport; and on the return for 40 minutes because they miscalculated fuel for the flight. Good thing they took care of that, but very frustrating as we were fully boarded and ready to go on time! This put us on an airplane for 7 hours in a seat that did not recline and lacking all the comforts listed above. The one saving grace in the entire experience – for which I will give full credit – crew were exceptionally friendly (see my other blogs for the difference this does make).

Please. I understand the appeal of low cost and getting a “deal”. But is the product now so eroded, and are the extra hidden costs that make it more expensive in the long run really worth it?

I ask my readers: Would you use this company again? I ask the airline: How long do you think the passenger will continue? I think it’s time we swing back the other way.

Kudos to American Airlines for its efforts: http://www.aa.com/newamerican

Kudos to Air Canada for putting some fun back into the wonderful job of being a crew member. As I’ve written in other blogs, happy employees help make happier customers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=go33Roh28BE

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