Want Better Airline Service? Walk with your Wallet, Not your Fingers

I read online articles about travel regularly, both to keep informed and see if something might be of interest to readers. My search last week brought me to this article. The writer, David Green, wrote about an experience with easyJet that obviously disappointed him greatly. Indeed, he expressed his frustration by writing directly to the airline’s CEO and it was her response that triggered his blog.

A little background: EasyJet is a popular London-based low cost carrier, second in size across the pond only to Ryanair. Combined, these airlines control most of the low cost routes through Europe. Both carriers are notorious for offering very low fares but nickel and diming customers on virtually every little thing. It was one of these ‘nickels and dimes’ that set off the writer.

Apparently Mr. Green agreed to pay an additional 30 quid (sorry, I don’t know how to post a British pound symbol) to bring along a checked suitcase. He was okay with that until he noticed later that his connection to Barcelona might mean his checked bag wouldn’t make the flight. Presumably Green decided to carry on this bag instead so he wanted a refund of the checked bag fee. Much to his surprise, the airline refused. Green says it is not about the money, rather about being ‘fair’ to customers though he acknowledges that the airlines states (“in small print”) that their fees are nonrefundable.

This caught my attention for a couple reasons. First, Green does not explain why he believed he could make the connecting flight to Barcelona but his bag would not. My experience is somewhat to the contrary. When I have tight connections, I am amazed to find my bag making it to the plane before me. Indeed, there have been a couple instances where the luggage was on the connecting flight but I did not make it.

The second thing is the rant itself. Yes, easyJet CEO Carolyn McCall’s response could have included greater language that the airline is only able to keep costs down for passengers because some will pay for things they don’t use or need. In other words, knowing unused services are nonrefundable, this is one way easyJet offsets such low cost. Nevertheless, Green felt the airline owed him an exception. After all he is a frequent flier with the airline.

This is something I often hear from other frequent fliers. They say they give “X” business to an airline or have elite status so the carrier should give them an exception to the rules. Sometimes airlines do make exceptions – and I absolutely agree that they are more likely to do this with higher elite status passengers – but requesting and demanding are not synonymous. In Green’s case, his demand was not met to his satisfaction.

It is also interesting that Green notes he is a former entrepreneur. Not sure what type of business he operated but as an owner, perhaps he worked overtime to please all his customers, avoiding profits but making people happy. And maybe that’s why he is a former entrepreneur. In any case, Mr. Green should certainly know the fallacy in his claim that “change only comes when we the consumer complain far more.” Sorry Mr. Green, this will never work. It is only when the complainers move to competitors that a company has serious problems.

This is certainly not meant to be a defense of the airline industry. Sad but true, passengers are quite low on the pecking orders with airlines. At the top is management, followed by the Board of Directors, stockholders, and employees. Unions are probably next in line, followed by the carrier’s elite status passengers. Next up would be those who at least have a frequent flier account with those who don’t even bother to do that rounding out the bottom.

I understand most of the anger and hostility toward the industry but I also understand people have wallets. Mr. Green, just like everyone else, is free to fly another airline. Yes, a different carrier may mean paying more for a ticket and/or it may involve more connecting flights, but everyone should realize that complaining about an airline policy will not change anything. What will work is if enough people walk with their wallets instead of their fingers or tongues. Only then will the airlines get the message.

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