Who's to blame for the airline mess? You!


Thought this was a pretty good article…

Who’s to blame for the airline mess? You!
Price-fixated passengers must shoulder some of the blame
By James Wysong
Travel columnist
Updated: 10:12 a.m. CT July 17, 2007

Hang around the airline industry long enough and you hear stories of the Good Old Days. In the Good Old Days, CEOs were selfless, employees were cheerful and passengers dressed up to fly. Management and union workers got along like family, and stewardesses cooked eggs-to-order in first class. Airlines cared about people, not numbers, and every flight was a wonderful travel experience even in coach. Or so the story goes.

Does anybody actually remember the Good Old Days? Were they ever a reality? I don’t know. All I know is that when I look at the airline industry today, I see nothing but dissatisfaction. Customers are unhappy, stockholders are nervous, management is desperate and union workers are furious. Flying is no longer a gracious extension of personal service, but a desperate, numbers-driven game in profit and loss. A cattle car might serve just as well.

How did it get this bad? And who is to blame? Greedy unions? Greedy managers? Some officious bureau of the government? Yes, all of the above have some share in the blame. But I have recently taken a harder look at another villain, who also bears some responsibility for this mess. And that villain is you.

Now, before you slam me in the “Comments,” hear me out.

Circumstances have changed since the Good Old Days of air travel. More people than ever choose to fly if their journey is over 300 miles. Southwest Airlines, the only U.S. airline success story in the last 10 years, met that new demand with a simple business plan: provide safe, low-cost air transportation with flexible schedules and new airport destinations while offering as few amenities as possible. You, the American public, responded so favorably that the major airlines had to redesign their operations to accommodate your wishes.

Now, guess what matters most to American travelers when it comes time to buy an airplane ticket. No shocker here the price! In fact, the big three factors are price, schedule frequency and frequent-flier miles. Customer service is way down on the list. That’s why the airlines have cut everything possible, including personnel, salaries, pensions and onboard amenities: to keep the ticket price down just as you asked for.

Now, I’m happy to criticize airline executive management every chance I get, but in fact these overpaid CEOs are just dancing to the tune of their airline’s shareholders, who have the same bottom-line mentality as their customers: Keep the price down, keep the numbers up, and watch the profits grow. They aren’t at all interested in your travel experience, just in the numbers. They don’t even care if their cut-rate service drives away business. Why not? Because they know that all the other airlines are in the same boat. So what if you get fed up with US Airways and switch to Delta? Chances are some other disgruntled customer is switching the other way. Numbers? No net change!

As far as executive compensation goes, if you were the CEO of a billion-dollar company, would you give up your millions and your golden parachute to show solidarity with the front-line workers? I’d like to say that I would, but you just don’t know unless you are in that situation.

What can you do? Well, you do have a few options:

  1. Know what’s important to you and stick to it. Seek out an airline that tries to give you what you really want from air travel, then stick with it. If enough travelers do this, it will send a message to the top in the form of black ink or red ink. But fair’s fair: If low price is your priority, you forfeit the right to complain about service.
  1. Lower your expectations. In the Good Old Days, when air travel was more of a novelty, people had lower expectations and were delighted with higher performance. Today, your main consideration should be having a safe journey between point A and point B. If you are resigned to a few hassles along the way like delays, cancellations, small seats and packed airplanes you will probably be better satisfied with what you get.
  1. Accept reality. The Good Old Days are gone for good. Accept it and move on, or quit flying altogether.

Here’s a short analogy. When was the last time you pulled into the “Full Serve” line at the gas station and had your gas pumped for you? Is this service even still available? Well, if it is, I can guarantee you that not many people use it. So most gas stations have trimmed the fat and the frills and now strive to offer the lowest gas prices in town. Once in a while, up pops a company like WAWA gas stations (not crazy about that name) with low prices, tons of coffee, courteous staff and tasty food. If you can find an airline like that, stick with it even if its prices are sometimes a little bit more than the ones next door.

As far as the Good Old Days go, time has a way of obscuring the bad and glorifying the good, making the true past unattainable. It helps me to remember this about the airline industry: As in all of life, the Good Old Days weren’t always good, and today may not be as bad as it seems.

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Good read. I think the “good old days” analogy applies to a lot of things.

I personally have no real complaints in the scheme of things. I’ve been stuck in traffic due to weather/wrecks/etc. while driving just as much as I’ve been delayed at the airport. That’s just life really. If you want to travel, you’ve got to roll with the punches.

But sometimes, people just don’t think when they make their travel reservations. Think about the day you’re flying, time, connecting, etc. Sometimes it pays to spend a little more to hedge your bets so to speak.

I have an aunt that comes out here from PHX several times a year. Southwest has direct flights into CMH at least once a day. Last winter she found a flight that was $30 cheaper connecting through DEN. She got bumped all over the country and eventually spent the night in IAD of all places.


I thought it was a good article, but the author fails to point out the increasing “I want BMW service for the price of a Pinto” mentality that is growing everyday in this country.

I personally would like to see a dress code enacted by airlines. Have you ever noticed that 90% of the “older” (no offense JHEM) people who fly commercially, especially in coach, still dress very nice when they fly? What ever happened to the dress code for 1st class? I flew back from McAllen, TX and saw a guy in 1st class with a NASTY tank top, cutoff shorts, and flip flops sitting in 1st class being a complete jerk to the flight attendants. I believe that if you start requiring the passengers to dress a little nicer, it will reflect in their attitudes. Sure, you can still have your less expensive, no thrills, airline, but at least you can look good while traveling. I don’t know, it is just me.


None taken Pik, but I’m one of those folk who firmly believe that comfort during travel is paramount.

You’ll most often find me on board in a faded Polo shirt, stretch Travelsmith jeans and loose Topsider loafers.

But I can well remember when a suit and tie were de rigeur for commercial air travel, even for short jaunts.


Believe it or not, I remember when I saw A LOT of people wearing that on flights, and everyone in first class had a button up shirt w/slacks (tie optional), and the women were in pant suits or dresses.

I guess when I say business casual, I mean more towards the “jean Friday” approach. I typically wear a NICE, clean, unwrinkled, pair of jeans, a nice polo (tucked in), no hat (exception was made when I worked with the Tulsa football team and I was literally going from the stadium to the plane), and nice loafers. Again, I just like to look like I will treat you with respect and not be a doom-ba-arse on the flight.


I agree with the article and most of the commments. I used to be a suit and that was a great way to fly as I was younger and always treated with more respect by the airline and other passengers. A custom suit also feels comfortable during the rigors of travel, hauling bags and extreme temperature and weather conditions (boarding a plane in driving rain in Chicago just to sit on the same steamy plane for 2 hours).

Now I try to dress for the destination and purpose of the trip. I usually wear cargo pants or shorts which are acceptable today and have lots of pockets for ipod, camera, phones, keys, airline/hotel/rental car confirmation papers, etc… When flying out of or back into my small town with up to 36 other passengers, I always run into a customer or somebody I know, so I try to look decent.

I love flip flops but not for travel. They don’t provide traction when hauling weight and climbing up/down stairs. It’s also easy to cut your toes on alot of things found in airports and airplanes. It’s also kind of rude to have your bare feet on or around other people in an enclose area, just ask Clay.

Now days, I never pack more than my rollerboard (fits under the seat and in the overheads) and sometimes a brief case with my laptop. Wearing a suit mean I don’t have to pack and wrinkle it.

  • Another good tip… wear natural fibers like cotton and not poly (and never a sweat suit - you’ll look ridiculous). It will be more comfortable during temperature extremes and in the event of a fire, you wont melt while trying to escape (literally).


So what do you tell the union worker low on seniority, the ramp rat in PHX in the summer, the de-icer in MSP , the mechanic working who is loosing their jobs to outsourcing, (fill in the blank) ? Your profession use to be good, but since those who fly want it cheap, you deserve less for the same job.
Hey you new hires, you deserve less than the us. Or in other words, we don’t want to fight your fight, we just want to keep what we have for as long as we can. I believe thinking like that is selfish and will weaken the union’s power to speak for the middle class. What’s the answer?