We are the enemy

by Charlie Leocha on September 3, 2002

The airlines seem to want to go out of business these days.

Terrorists may have struck a symbolic blow against the capitalist Satan with their destruction of the twin towers, but the airlines themselves are proving to be much more of a threat to their survival than any terrorist may have been.

My mind spins with the latest proclamations from the airline powers that be. Most businesses in bankruptcy, or near-bankruptcy trouble normally turn to their loyal customers to bring them back from the brink of financial disaster.

Customers provide the money that is the lifeblood of any airline.

And who brings more customers to the airlines than any other part of the travel world? Travel agents.

Without the U.S. government pouring money into the airlines, the only real way for the airlines to generate cash flow is generate passenger traffic. Logic would indicate that some kind of “customer first” program might be initiated. Amazingly, it has been the opposite.

According to the airlines, two of the biggest reasons for their financial demise are fare-paying passengers and travel agents. Passengers aren’t traveling and spending enough and travel agents cost too much and aren’t selling enough tickets.

Travel agents are being squeezed out of business by clear collusion between the airlines. Passengers already hassled to the extreme with security issues, now are faced with an airline shakedown.

Here are some actions that I can recite off the top of my head that the airlines have taken to remedy this situation.

1. Even through travel agents sell more airline tickets than any other member of the travel industry, they are no longer being paid by the airlines. They have no incentive to sell a ticket unless they can get the passenger to pay them a fee. The airline fee structure indicates travel agents only have a value to passengers and no value to the airlines. This is so mind-boggling stupid that I’m almost embarrassed writing it. The real solution would be for the airlines to get out of the business of selling tickets and let travel agents do it.

2. Paper tickets now cost $20 or more on major airlines. Standby travel on advanced-purchase US Airway and American Airline tickets will no longer be allowed with the charge of an additional fee. We’ll see how long this foolish rule stands.

3. US Airways has announced, under the moniker of “fairness to the consumer,” that most advanced-purchased tickets will no longer be credited toward frequent flyer elite status. I am an elite member of their frequent flyer program, but obviously the kind of member they don’t want. I am sending letters this to Delta and Continental asking whether I can transfer to their elite programs and shift my business.

4. The airlines are now charging extra for a third checked bag and for oversized luggage. These arcane rules have been in place for years, however they have never been uniformly enforced. Kind of like the law in a New England state that requires a man with a lantern walk in front of an automobile in the fog. We all agree that those old “blue laws” are a joke. However, in these cases, it is no joke for unaware passengers. The extra checked bag costs $40 when flying with Delta. An oversized bag can cost $270!

5. As the airlines give lip service to simplifying airfares without changing anything, they are complicating baggage charges. Now, a recent story in the Wall Street Journal details how travelers can save money by packing three smaller bags rather than packing one larger bag that exceeds the airline-imposed limits.

6. There’s more.

The airlines have placed their loyal passengers and once-loyal travel agents directly in the crosshairs. Airline executives have spotted the enemy. You are it.

I’m exhausted trying to keep up with the ill-advised changes coming fast and furious in the airline world. I only hope that AirTran or Southwest will soon start flying to Charleston, SC, so I can escape the greedy, serviceless clutches of the likes of US Airways, Continental and Delta.

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