Just because something is cheap, doesn’t mean it has to suck. That’s something the airline industry doesn’t seem to get.
Airlines have changed immensely in the past decade, and with each shift, it seems its image just keeps getting worse and worse.
And these statements by United CEO Jeff Smisek show exactly why, from a recent AP interview:
Q: A lot of people love to hate the airlines. Do they expect too much from you?
A: We’re in the business of getting people safely from point A to point B, on time, with their underwear. That’s what we do for a living and we are really good at it. The mental image people have of the glamour of flying was when flying was unaffordable. When I was a child, I didn’t fly – we couldn’t afford to fly. Flying was for rich people. Today, flying is for everybody.
Q: Is there anything that will make airfare pricing less complicated?
A: No. I think what you’re going to see is more choice. And choice can become complex.
Flying may be for everybody, but does everybody have to be treated like a herd of cattle in order to experience it? That’s why people hate flying, and that’s one of many reasons the airlines are getting massacred. Flying doesn’t have to be glamorous, but it has to be human, and customers have to be acknowledged that their experience matters.
Do consumers expect too much? No, because it’s what the consumer expects that matters. Customer expectations will be different for a brand like United compared with, say, Cathay Pacific. But airline customers expect a lot as a baseline, even from low-end brands.
There are other environments that offer ultra-cheap products that customers don’t utterly despise. Take big box retailers like Walmart and Target. They may not present the most luxurious shopping experience, at least you’re usually not being treated like crap by the floor folks and cashiers, and you don’t have to pay fees for everything that you do.
As for complexity, consumers have been complaining about it for years. Short of being yanked aside by the TSA, there’s not much more frustrating than finding out that you have to pay a fee for your checked bags, or having to dish out a couple bucks for a bag of Lays that you could’ve gotten for less at a vending machine.
Now, Smisek says that United isn’t going to do anything to try to fix pricing complexity. In fact, he expects things to get even more complicated, because they want to offer more options for customers (as always, for a fee). He did say that he doesn’t foresee any new bag fees though.
Look, the airlines have tons of other things to worry about too. Skyrocketing fuel prices, an ailing economy and regulators threatening more transparency continue to plague the industry. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that a fundamental disconnect now exists between some airlines and their customers, likely because of all the pressures to cut costs and offer lower base prices.
But here’s the problem with that. They’re focusing purely on the numbers, without thinking about this question: If the airlines don’t prioritise what customers (you know, the people who actually buy the tickets) think about the experience, then why should they bother experiencing it at all?
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