Sunday musings: Bargain airlines cut corners? “Friendly Skies” returns, code-share lies

by Charlie Leocha on September 22, 2013

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Today we take time to consider whether ultra-low-cost airlines are involved in ultra-low-cost maintenance and whether the benefits of the low fares outweigh problems. We learn that the “Friendly Skies” ads are coming back. And, DOT starts to fine travel agencies for code-share violations — not telling passengers that airlines are lying.

Ultra-low-cost carriers mean infrequent service and who knows whatever servicing cuts

Several stories about cut-rate airlines are leading me to believe that these airlines are cutting corners when it comes to service. This can be manifested by poor maintenance and by limited schedules to back up passengers should there be problems.

Allegiant Airlines recently had to cut flights because the FAA discovered that the maintenance and inspections of the emergency evacuation equipment had not been performed.

The airline discovered the problem after an emergency evacuation of an Allegiant Air plane in Las Vegas. On Thursday night the company took all 49 active MD-80s planes out of service to check maintenance on each slide. By Friday afternoon, 15 planes were back in service, each equipped with four slides that had been inspected and maintained within the year. Besides the MD-80s, which it will continue to try to return to service, the carrier has six Boeing 757s and one Airbus A319 that are unaffected.

When alternatives exist, passengers often only face a delay in arriving at their destination, but with airlines such as Allegiant and Spirit, the infrequent service and lack of backup planes makes purchasing these low-cost tickets a true crap shoot when it comes to travel. If everything goes well, fine. But, when faced with the slightest problem, families’ travel plans are destroyed.

Ready for the “Friendly Skies,” again

United Airlines, whose motto used to be Fly the Friendly Skies, but whose service since their merger with Continental has been anything but friendly, has decided to resurrect the old advertising line.

The merging of Continental and United has been so fraught with consumer complaints and computer glitches that the newly formed airline felt that it needed to return to a “friendlier” time.

Tom O’Toole, United’s senior vice president for marketing and loyalty, said United had opted to return to the Burnett tagline because it wanted to “re-establish United’s position as the world’s leading” customer-focused airline.

He called the timing of its reintroduction “a convergence of a series of advances.” Since 2010, United has completed installation of premium-cabin flatbed seats on select international flights, expanded its economy-plus seating, improved its on-time performance and invested in new customer service training programs for all customer-contact employees.

DOT coming after code-share violations

The Department of Transportation, sometime in the dark past, decided that prevaricating when it came to advertising should be allowed when it came to airlines. No other industry has the in-your-face deceptive nature that is found in airline code-sharing. When selling code-share flights (flights where one airline masquerades as another — all legally, according to DOT), airlines and their agents must tell passengers that the airlines are, in effect, lying when they are selling you air transportation.

A few code-share violations where the lie was not properly disclosed got a group of travel agencies in trouble. A columnist, writing in a travel agency trade publication, bashes the deceptive practice.

I have never understood the point of codesharing other than to dupe the consumer into thinking that less-preferred Airline A was really more-preferred Airline B, even though Airline A operated the flight. Realizing the potential deception inherent in codesharing, the DOT has tried to have it both ways: to authorize the practice, on the one hand, but to put the burden on travel sellers to reveal the truth to the consumer, on the other hand. …I don’t know why the government allows such confusion that no doubt makes travelers think they are flying Air France when they go to the airport, only to find that they are on Delta.

This deceptive and misleading practice should be eliminated. The code-share fraud serves no purpose other than to confuse passengers and make airlines appear larger than they are.

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  • sirwired

    Scheduled Maintenance paperwork lapses seem to have little to do with the fares of the airline; it seems that they get slapped by the FAA in equal measure. We’ve certainly seen widespread debacles at one time or another with just about everybody from American to Allegiant. And I don’t remember the last time a crash was shown to be due to corner-cutting on some required inspection or maintenance interval. That’s not to say badly done maintenance and repairs haven’t caused any accidents (which seem to be seem to be fairly well-distributed across the industry), but that’s a separate issue from simply failing to perform all scheduled maintenance and inspections at required intervals, which is what this involved.

    I had a chuckle with United’s new campaign. We could translate it as “You’ll still be one unhappy camper by the end of your flight, but we’ll be smiling about it.”

    On code-sharing: I’ve never thought of it as particularly deceptive (certainly not “lying”); we see the equivalent of “code-sharing” in just about every single industry from Automobiles (i.e. GM has sold Daewoos for years) to Food and Drugs (if you ever see “distributed by:” on a label, the company selling it didn’t make it), banking, electronics, tools, and the entire “private label” consumer goods industry. Now, certainly, some airlines suck at code-sharing (and that’s bad), and travel sellers that don’t adequately disclose it do indeed deserve fines (that said, I don’t remember getting a code-shared travel confirmation that DIDN’T say “Operated by XYZ Airlines”), but it’s a useful practice for which interline agreements are not a complete replacement.

  • BobChi

    I find that codesharing makes it much easier to book itineraries that involve more than one airline. A fairly high percentage of the trips I take involve two or more carriers. I have no trouble learning which carrier is actually operating a given flight. It’s always spelled out clearly when I book.

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