The airlines’ rash of flight cancellations over the winter break is a significant blunder, which has become nothing more than buses for people. Peter Coy said, “the airlines are running with a precariously low ratio of employees to passengers, which leaves themselves vulnerable to surprises like Omicron, the more contagious new variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, which drastically thinned the ranks of flight crews”.
I hate to fly. Going to the airport has become nothing more than a cattle call with rude employees who treat flyers with disdain. I wouldn’t mind, but Congress gave the airlines $54 billion in grants over the past two years to make sure they remained well-staffed to continue to serve their vital function of getting people from place to place. They had to accept strict limits on layoffs, dividends, stock buybacks, and pay increases for senior executives to get the money. They were, however, permitted to reduce headcount through early-retirement incentives and voluntary furloughs. They did, and those job cuts have been only partially reversed.
Airlines have been reducing the ratio of employees to passengers for years. According to data I downloaded from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the number of passengers departing from or arriving at U.S. airports rose 53 percent from January 2003 to January 2020, just before the pandemic, while full- and part-time employment by airlines rose only 15 percent over the period.
But let’s be honest. Customer service in the airline industry is almost non-existent. Schedules and prices have replaced branding, and the only reason most people stick with one airline is to get their frequent flyer miles.
Research consistently has shown that people will pay more for better service, so one must wonder why the industry hasn’t been disrupted by a new brand that treats flyers like valued customers? I’m not saying that people would pay $500 more to fly from Chicago to New York, but there is an opportunity for substantial improvement.
Let me also say that there is no excuse for any passenger getting physical with flight crews. But, one has to wonder why they are so angry. It might have something to do with the horrible experience people experience when they first enter an airport. TSA agents think they’re superior to travelers, and gate agents are about as friendly as someone with PMS.
Some say it’s impossible to get employees to be “customer-centric” in the airline industry, but I don’t buy that. Pay your people well, and they will treat customers well.
The CEO of American Airlines recently blamed lousy customer service on unruly passengers. Still, perhaps he should try flying his airline as a regular coach class customer to experience how bad it has become.