I must admit I have been one of the pickiest travelers lately. With so many choices and cheap fares, travelers are much more spoiled than before, especially corporate travelers. In order to boost the so-called Business Class Load Factor (percentage of all business class filled seats on a plane), airlines decreased the required amount of MQMs (qualifying miles) passengers need to reach a "special " status.
This means more frequent fliers might get a much needed airport upgrade to a business class seat. For instance, Delta Sky Miles Program decreased the amount of MQMs needed to reach a Gold Status from 60,000 per year to 50,000 per year and introduced additional benefits, such as year-to-year rollover miles. However, what matters most to passengers is not a mileage program.
Free upgrades, better food choices, more international routes, and more importantly a slightly better economy caused the airline load factor in the US to increase from 78.22% in December of 2008 to 79.98% in December of 2009, but airlines operating revenue did not increase. For instance, Delta's operating revenue on a GAAP basis grew 1% to $6.8 billion in the December 2009 quarter compared to the prior year period as a result of its merger with Northwest. On a combined basis, total operating revenue declined nearly $1 billion, or 12%, and total unit revenue (RASM) declined 5% in the December 2009 quarter compared to the 2008 quarter. Many people argue that airlines do everything possible to survive in this difficult economy. However, I would like to propose a solution to airline problems, which will make airlines much more successful and produce instant results. Important to note that my proposed solutions are rather Utopia and require acts that go beyond one smart decision. However, they are important from a planning standpoint.
1. Take Off On Time. This is a single most important issue. People choose airlines instead of trains, cars and buses, because they want to get to their destinations FASTER. Thus, it is critical that the airline one chooses not only makes it to the destination, but makes it on time. Otherwise, what is the point of taking a NYC-DC United shuttle if it arrives with a two-hour delay...? Make it a habit to take off on time, and passengers will respect your brand so much more and fly with you much more often.
2. Train Your Personnel. It is absolutely crucial to provide the best customer service experience. There is still a thing called loyalty and passengers want to stay loyal to the airline that treats them well, regardless of their mileage status. Make it a habit to go an extra mile for every passenger and we will pay back with loyalty. I believe some airline employees forgot that customer service is the utmost priority in the service business, especially in such a competitive industry as airlines and hospitality. Small things do matter.
3. Lobby to Decrease/Abolish Various Airport and Airline Taxes. An average passenger pays anywhere from 15% to 50% in various taxes on every ticket. This is ridiculous and some airlines are trying to take measures to protest these taxes, which significantly increase ticket costs and decrease airline's bottom line. According to every survey, price is still the number one factor for passengers when choosing a carrier.
4. Live Up to Your Mileage Program Promises. Is it that hard to do? I have a SkyMiles program from Delta where I have a Gold Status which offers an automatic upgrade to business class for me and my companion. However, as it often happens unless I call Delta and make sure I am on the list, they find a reason not to upgrade me. On my recent flight from La Guardia to Atlanta I witnessed first-hand what it means to be ignored. I was on the upgrade list, but the airline clerk decided to put someone she personally knew in business class and bump me down to economy. When I slightly hinted that this was not right, the clerk tried to remedy the situation and switch me with a much older gentleman who was sitting in business (probably another airline employee's friend). I refused, because I did not feel right to make an older person go back to economy.
Overall, I think airlines have a great future and there are plenty of opportunities ahead of them, but they need to fix most important issues before they push their mileage programs and spend hard marketing dollars selling these programs to angry travelers.
P.S. BTW, I still fly Delta and hope they read this blog :)