What if you went to, say, Macy’s, to buy a pair of trousers, and the clerk told you, “Sorry, the $49.95 price tag is for the 29-inch waist, and if want something larger, that’s cost you another ten dollars. Choice of color adds another five. And the bag will cost you another five bucks, and, by the way, the whole pricing structure is good only if you make your purchase on Saturdays before 9 a.m.” If any other business treated its customers like U.S. airlines treat theirs, they wouldn’t be in business.
Last June, I reserved a flight costing about $775 on United Airlines for travel in September, then cancelled it two days later, thinking I’d get a full refund. Nope. I received a travel voucher for use within one year and a $200 flight change fee. Call customer service and you get the equivalent of the finger. Don’t like that $100 baggage fee? We don’t give a shit. Don’t like paying ten bucks for a meal Subway or another chain would throw away? We don’t give a shit. Don’t like it when we revise downwards the acceptable carryon right after you bought one? We don’t give a shit. Take your business elsewhere? We don’t give a shit. They’re just as bad and we’ll probably be merging with them anyway.
It’s bad enough that you have to fly on planes built when Nixon was president, where you’re so cramped your knees are under your chin. You can hear the rivets buzz outside and hope you didn’t catch hantavirus from breathing the recirculated air. And that’s after the interminable slog of the security lines where even old people who look like your grandparents are subject to pat down.
This article in the New Yorker discusses the why’s of crappy airline service. It kind of has to do with all the mergers and the end of regulations. I guess I get all that, but what I don’t get is why the airlines don’t change. I’ve concluded that they won’t change because they don’t have to, and since they don’t have to, not wanting to doesn’t matter.
Despite a couple of mishaps lately, I love flying Southwest pretty much. They’re nearly always on time, and sometimes early. Their flights board quickly. The pricing is transparent. They don’t nickel and dime you with junk fees and gotchas. But they don’t fly to a lot of places I want to go.
What to do about it? I don’t know. Pull for the feds to regulate them, I guess. Or hope Apple or Tesla or some other company who cares about customers gets into the business.