Cost-Cutting Measures Paying off, But At What Price?
As US airlines repair damage from
years of losses that have arisen from increasing low-fare
competition and climbing fuel costs-- not to mention terror
concerns -- carriers say they have been forced take actions that
improve their bottom lines, but could repel the customers who make
that bottom line possible in the first place.
Or maybe not.
Air Transport Association spokesman David Castelveter says
flights will be more than 80 percent full on average this summer as
a record 209 million people will travel by air, according to
"The carriers' actions are paying off," he said. "They are
starting to make money. Their airplanes are full."
Indeed, US carriers made $2 billion to $3 billion in 2006, the
industry's first annual profit since 2000, according to the ATA. To
do this, carriers have had to fill as many seats as possible and
cut costs wherever possible, including sacrifices in customer
service. This has translated into such inconveniences as fewer
seats to accommodate those grounded by canceled flights. As a
result, people can be stranded for days.
"In the old days, when flights were half empty, delays were less
stressful," said DePaul University airline expert Joe Schwieterman.
"Nowadays delays mean almost intolerable crowding both in airports
and on airplanes."
"I faced a five-hour delay at Reagan (National Airport,
Washington, DC) last week. It was terrible," he said.
"On one hand, it's good because it puts airlines closer to
profitability," said airline consultant Michael Boyd. "On the other
hand, it's bad because there is no excess slack in the system."
But, even though travelers face frustration at overcrowded
planes and the hassle of delayed flights, afterwards they
ultimately care more about price, according to
"It doesn't change the fact that consumers have the attention
span of a monkey," Boyd said. "The next time they go to Fort
Lauderdale, they are going to book whatever seat is the
According to Reuters, experts say carriers' financial health
will be best protected by running lean, even if it means incidents
of such customer service horrors as hundreds of passengers being
stranded because of computer hiccups or bad weather and they are
unlikely to lose much business as a result.
According to the ATA, more than half of all delays last year
were caused by things out of the airlines' control -- such as
weather, and is compounded by the aging, woefully inadequate air
But, the air traveling public may,
indeed care more about bare-bones ticket prices than any customer
service meat. New no-frills airlines, like the Columbus, OH-based
Skybus, offer seats as low as $10 and don't have so much as a
customer service phone number, as ANN has reported.
So far, Skybus CEO Bill Diffenderffer says, "A couple hundred
thousand" tickets have been sold since they became available --
online only, no ticket agents -- on April 24 and more than 80% of
the seats on its current 14-plane fleet of leased Airbus A319s were
booked through the first month.
You do get what you pay for, though. Ten dollars for airfare
means you check your own baggage and have to pay for things like
meals and pillows separately -- cash only, please.