The Air Travel Dilemma: How Do We Fix the Flying Experience?

A mood-lit Delta cabin (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Alex Navitsky)

Over the past several months I haven’t been able to turn around without hearing someone talking about airlines. Previously nothing has made me happier to talk about an industry I am extremely passionate about, but lately, the conversations have taken a turn for the worse since the United incident with Dr. Dao.

In light of recent events, I have attempted to reflect and find some sort of common ground between two opposing sides of people; the hard-core “AvGeeks” who feel airlines can do no wrong, and the everyday fliers who claim the airlines do not care one ounce for their customers.

The reality is that it hasn’t been easy to find this so called “middle ground.” In addition, I have found few if any that are willing to meet in the middle in what has become a battle for the skies over who is ultimately responsible for making air travel both safer and a better experience for both customers and employees.

In an attempt to pursue some sort of resolution, I have asked two individuals to discuss their opinion on what has caused the recent strife between the airlines and passengers, and what solutions they propose to create lasting solutions.

Amy, Consultant, Los Angeles, Calif.

It wouldn’t be a normal Monday morning if I weren’t on the way to the airport. As a consultant, I am tasked with solving problems and traveling nearly every week, often to different destinations. While there are certainly some perks to this such as the airline miles and hotel points earned, I have grown increasingly accustomed to a lack of empathy from airline staff at my airline of choice, which often leaves me feeling as though travel isn’t the beautiful experience it’s cracked up to be.

To be clear, this isn’t a complaint about the aircraft themselves; sure, we’ve all had our fair share of flying on a legacy-US Airways aircraft with limited seat pitch and a lack of power outlets, but what really hits home for me is that the airline industry in the U.S., which is supposed to be a part of the service industry, doesn’t make a reasonable effort to take care of its customers.

I am not simply talking about your Executive Platinum AA flyers or Global Services at United, but the once-a-year vacation travelers as well. I stopped keeping count of the rude customer service agents, delayed flights with no gate announcements and downright mean approach toward passengers traveling home to see their families.

In my line of work, I have learned that in difficult scenarios the issue is rarely the problem itself, but rather how it is viewed and addressed by the group who created the problem. When passengers are delayed, how much does it cost for a gate agent to present a genuine apology and true estimated time of departure, rather than play the “15-minute rolling delay” game with no announcement made to passengers?

When an old woman is traveling and cannot lift her bag up, how much time does it really take a flight attendant to assist her? These are questions I ask myself every day and wonder why we as a nation have grown so accustomed to a lack of care for customers, and why we haven’t pushed back more and demanded to be treated fairly.

I am not talking about a lavish red carpet entry on every flight or free alcohol for everyone in coach, but rather simple, meaningful greetings and a willingness to feel empathy for a passenger. If the airlines in the U.S. can figure this out, maybe then we can truly make flying not just a tolerable experience, but a positive one once again.

Dan, Student, St. Louis, Mo.

I remember taking a trip when I was young to visit Lambert-St. Louis International Airport as a kid. Keep in mind that this was a time prior to 9/11 when it was commonplace to travel to the gate to see family take off on their trip, and it was also at a time when TWA was booming at its hub in St. Louis.

There was this magical feeling watching a Boeing 747 glisten down the runway as it prepared for its flight across the globe, and I knew from a young age that no matter what the circumstances were in the future, there would always be something special about flying.

Unfortunately, over the last several years I have seen this magnificent experience plagued by screaming passengers, unruly incidents at the gate and downright demanding expectations from frequent flyers that have all but taken away this once incredible experience. Airline employees have become tasked with not just looking out for passenger safety as they should be, but rather babysitting both young children and grown adults. This is not the way flying should be.

Front-line staff both on the aircraft and at the gate are having to work beyond their limits with demanding passengers on both sides of the loyalty spectrum with everyone wanting more, even as ticket prices continue to decline driven by new ultra-low-cost carriers entering many cities where legacy carriers operate.

Customers want rock-bottom fares but want top-notch service at the same time. Essentially they want more while spending less, which doesn’t exactly add up. This isn’t to say all passengers are like this, as many are still going about their travel in an efficient and mature way.

But the reason we keep hearing about terrible incidents involving air travel is driven by aggressive behavior by a select group of customers. How can a gate agent be expected to help a passenger with a baggage issue if he is video-taping her the entire time?

How can a flight attendant be expected to provide good customer service to passengers if they end up in a large brawl onboard? The answer is no solution can be made by the airlines without all passengers doing their part to return travel to a sane and safe place to be.

Conclusion

While this is just the opinion of two readers, I would encourage you to voice your own opinion on recent events occurring onboard U.S. airlines. How can we as a group, both airlines and passengers, try and return air travel to the friendly skies once again?

Joe Pesek

Joe Pesek

Joe joined AirlineGeeks in 2014, and in his current role as Editor-in-Chief manages a growing team of writers both in North America and Europe. He enjoys spending the bulk of his time researching, learning and analyzing the latest trends in the airline industry, all while mentoring new members of the AirlineGeeks team who seek to do the same. Areas of research include revenue management, codeshare and alliance partnerships and airline financial results.
Joe Pesek