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The Airline Industry? Soap Opera, Pure and Simple.

April 8, 2008 | Posted in: Airline News,News

If you’ve read anything at all about the world of airlines, airports and airfare in the past days (and months), you may be reminded of an ongoing soap opera. I know I am. For instance:

Intrigued? I hope so. Please keep reading, and send me your feedback!

Clearly, the airlines’ audience has a love-hate relationship with their carriers; the release of Monday’s Airline Quality Ratings study proved that. According to one of the study’s authors, the “U.S. airline industry [is] at rock-bottom in terms of overall performance.”

One of the airlines’ big problems of course, is the soaring cost of fuel (it has doubled since early last year), which makes finding cheap airfare more of a challenge than ever, and that’s no fun. But what can be fun, is simply observing the airline industry. At least you know you won’t be bored.

I mean, just look at the cast of characters! Men of mystery, hard-bitten beauties and gunslingers galore. And the twists and turns of the plot will keep you riveted. My favorite episodes fall into these three categories: romance, adventure and mystery. Let’s review:

“Desperate Airlines: Romance”

Even airlines need love, and American Airlines is hoping it’s looking for love in the one of the right places: Facebook. The old-school carrier is trying to spruce up its image by appealing to youthful devotees of this internet “show-the-world-how-cool-you-are” site. The airline hopes its new Facebook “application” called Travel Bag (which helps you countdown trips, display pictures and more) may be the equivalent of a make-over of sorts. Will American become a “hottie”? Will it win the love of the young and restless? Stay tuned.

Also on the romance front: Delta and Northwest. For a time, it seemed these friends would get married (alright, “merged”); but the relationship keeps running hot and cold. One minute, they’re passionate about getting together, and the next thing you know, a bunch of pilots are trying to break them up (those pesky pilot labor unions with their requests for merger-related “salary enhancements”). Will the two airlines finally find true love? Beats me, but I’ll keep watching.

Speaking of romance, no one has yet used the phrase, “in bed together” but that’s the implication in the relationship between the airlines and the FAA. The government officials who led a hearing into this matter did mention a rather “cozy” arrangement, but none of the airline execs would cop to “kissing and telling.”

  • Favorite “Romance” Character: Southwest’s Herb Kelleher, who denied that his airline had a “kissy-kissy” relationship with the FAA.

“Desperate Airlines: Adventure”

This plotline is all over the map. Exhibit A (and here’s something to think about as you furiously gather up all your tax forms to send out this week): a University of Michigan study found last year that, when it came to customer satisfaction, airlines ranked below the Internal Revenue Service. Yes, airline customer satisfaction and service is a continuing adventure: Will my airline make me pay for my blanket? How many hours will I sit on the tarmac? And the always popular, what city will my luggage be sent to?

There’s more adventure in London these days, especially at Heathrow’s new, state-of-the-art Terminal 5. In the first couple of days of its grand opening, the British Airways terminal lost 15,000 pieces of luggage, which necessitated the cancellation of 14% of its flights. Oh, the excitement.

But I’m sure that was nothing compared to the excitement in the cockpit of a US Airways flight last month, when a pilot’s gun went off. No, this had nothing to do with going after any bad guys; the gun just went off — in mid-air. Last we heard, officials were still investigating. Luckily this little adventure ended with no one getting hurt.

  • Favorite “Adventure” Character: Supermodel Naomi Campbell, who was arrested at Heathrow for (reportedly) “anger” and “luggage” issues (one of her bags didn’t get on her plane, she got angry, and the cops got out the cuffs).

“Desperate Airlines: Mystery”

Nothing like a good mystery to chase away those rising-airfare blues, and we’ve got plenty of them in today’s “bizarro world” of air travel. Like how is it that Aloha Airlines has the best “on time” arrival rate of all U.S. airlines (Dept. of Transportation statistics, February 2008), and for its efforts — goes out of business! That is a puzzlement.

And so is the matter of 70′s era hijacker D.B. Cooper, who said he had a bomb, demanded $200,000, and took the cash with him as he parachuted out the jet. He hasn’t been seen since. Recently, officials thought they were on their way to solving this mystery after some kids found a half-buried parachute in Washington state. The FBI got all excited, but experts said, nope, sorry, wrong parachute. The mystery continues.

And finally there’s the mystery of how an airline can “ding” your credit card in the blink of an eye and in many cases (more than 1 in 4) not deliver the intended service; they hold onto your hard-earned cash even if they cancel your flight or happen to go defunct (though you may get a voucher, and maybe even a refund after months of persistence). Notice how credit card companies aren’t much help, either? They may refuse refunds if airlines go bankrupt or if you’ve bought your ticket well in advance — as you’re supposed to do. What other retailer could get away with this consistently?

  • Favorite “Mystery” Character: Mr. Cooper, of course. To this day, nobody knows who he is/was. Even his alias is something of a mystery: yes, the hijacker did use the name “Cooper”, but never “D.B.” Somehow a reporter got it wrong, but it stuck.

Next Episode?

I can’t wait. Sure, I’m an airfare expert, but I find everything in the world of air travel fascinating, and why not? There’s always something new and, well, frankly weird — and I, for one, will keep watching. Stay tuned.

One Response to “The Airline Industry? Soap Opera, Pure and Simple.”

  1. Rick:

    Very clever, very creative. You hit it on the nose about the airlines. What a sad state of affairs. I’ve been a travel agent for over 20 years and I remember when the airlines treated people like gold, reps came in and wined and dined us for our business and the travel agents were at the top of the heap. Let’s just hope the government steps in and starts pushing the airlines to get their act together. They tried to go “cheap” and it wound up costing them an arm and a leg. They deserve it but the public does not.

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