Why Airlines Are Dying

Is anyone home?
United Airlines headquarters: Is anyone home?

Last week, I had a one-day trip to Washington. It was a 6 a.m. flight on United, and I overslept. I got to the ticket counter only 5 minutes before departure time, which was too late. United’s next flight was three hours later – no good – so I booked a flight on another airline, and paid full freight.

Today, I called Expedia to see if I could get a credit for my $176 ticket on United. I was told that United would be delighted to give me a credit, after I paid a $150 penalty.

Unbelievable. Is it any wonder why they’re struggling?

Any company that treats its customers like the enemy does not deserve to survive.


8 thoughts on “Why Airlines Are Dying

  1. Fair question.
    Strictly speaking, they don’t have to. It was my fault. But if they want to cultivate any good will at all with customers, this is not the way to do it.

  2. David,

    You make a good point that Frank did oversleep so in effect it was his fault and he was therefore not due a refund. That perspective is a very short term dollar focused one. Good customer service would say that United should offer him some other alternative besides paying a $150 fee for them to basically forgive him for a mistake and potentially keep him as a loyal customer.

    Some airlines seem to get it while others do not. I think that is the same with companies and associations in general. To stick with the airline example look at Southwest. I used to hate Southwest. I hated the way you had to line up like cattle so you could get a decent seat. I really didn’t understand how that made the airline more efficient or saved money. I fought flying on Southwest for as long as I could. Many of Southwest’s other policies and their low prices have helped me overcome what I disliked and turned me into a loyal Southwest customer. I now have even dropped my USAir credit card and use a Southwest credit card.

    Southwest realizes that customer loyalty is important. In Frank’s case he most likely would have been able to carry those credits over to a future Southwest flight with a small booking fee. Doesn’t that make more sense? Southwest gets to make him happy, cover their administrative costs associated with his missing the flight and probably also had someone else sit in his seat because their flights tend to always be packed.

    Companies and associations need to undertand that a short term loss can really lead to a long term gain. If they don’t, they will soon be in as dire straits as many of the airlines.

  3. You’re kidding right? This has never been the policy of airlines and it shouldn’t. This is completely and totally your fault. They could not resell that seat. You want them to pay you for over sleeping AND not be able to resell that seat, thus being out two fares. You’re right, if they did this they WOULD be out of business soon.

  4. I am not trying to avoid responsibility for oversleeping. I am not entitled to a single thing, and I never meant to suggest that I did. So let’s dispose of that straw man.

    And let’s get real. Airline seats are going unfilled. I was on a flight on the same day, to the same place, on a different airline, and the plane was only half full. They need people like me.

    My point is this: If United wants to cultivate customers, it could have done something to make me feel wanted and welcome. It could have cut the penalty fee half, or made some other inexpensive gesture. But by treating me like another piece of baggage to be monetized to the max, United lost me. In the future, I will go out of my way to avoid flying United’s “friendly” skies.

    How many times does this happen daily? Probably a lot.

    Good companies make their customers feel appreciated. Two recent examples. 1- This past Sunday morning, I lost my web service at home. The Verizon Fios agent was completely and totally awesome. 2- Recently, I had a problem with Windows XP. The tech support guy from Microsoft was competent, courteous and funny.

    So which of the above companies do you think I will patronize in the future?

  5. Airlines know that this sort of thing happens. At times it is their policy to overbook flights. They also know a business traveler when they see one, and they know their is a value in retaining them as customers.

    United understands this, so they are “delighted” to give him a credit. But then they throw away that good will by slapping him with a penalty. United would have done better to say, “sorry, nothing we can do”.

    It’s a poorly designed return policy. If it was a $1500 ticket, that $150 fee might seem quite reasonable and he’d be glad to pay it. But on a $176 ticket, it feels like a kick in the teeth.

  6. So, you are saying a company should always accomodate the customer even if the customer is totally wrong? That just encourages customers (or association members) to ignore rules, guidelines, cutoff dates, and other requirements.

    Customers should accept responsibility for their actions and companies and associations should not feel compelled to accomodate absolutely everybody. There’s nothing anti-consumer about that.

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