Airline Greed: The Customer Is Always Wrong

By John Christopher Fine Created: June 19, 2011 Last Updated: March 19, 2013
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Passengers wait in line at the American Airlines ticket counter at Miami International Airport  in Miami, Florida.    (John W. Adkisson/Getty Images)

Passengers wait in line at the American Airlines ticket counter at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida. (John W. Adkisson/Getty Images)

What used to be is no more and will never be again. With the “rudening” of American society, tough, uncouth, slovenly, garishly prison-tattooed passengers indulge in airport rage. Others just get angry.

No wonder. They are being treated in kind. Airlines have turned flying into bus travel. Airline executives have taken aboard cut-throat Wall Street tactics as baggage. Airlines are commodities that are bought, sold, traded and exchanged.

Airline greed and an overall indifference to customer service when combined with ill-mannered passengers has doomed the industry. There is no mental fitness or anger level screening. The most that happens is that knitting needles are taken away from old ladies.

Into this melee come work-hardened flight attendants. Most have seen everything and become hard-boiled; some are surly and should have been culled out at flight attendant school. Many are lazy and can be seen to take full advantage of union protection by doing the minimum. Mega-airlines have little or no loyalty to their employees and the disfavor is reciprocal.

One writer for a major travel magazine complained that a male flight attendant refused to help her heft her carry on into the bin when she had just recovered from shoulder surgery. The writer in Travel and Leisure opined that the attendant told her, “That’s not my job.”

With the waning of government regulation and the advent of the air-bus and on-line ticket purchases, “el cheapo” air fares are sought. Most independent travel agents have been put out of business by airlines. Big ones like American Express charged a whopping $39 fee to ticket a round trip from New York to West Palm Beach, Florida.

There are taxes and surcharges, baggage fees and even charges for wider seats and more leg-room. Continental Airlines, once fairly good at passenger service, sold extra legroom to an older couple en route from Belfast to Newark. The plane was packed. Not one seat was free. Seating in coach was cramped so Continental could maximize their profits.

Airline executives have taken aboard cut-throat Wall Street tactics as baggage.

The older couple did not get what they paid $129 each for and had their receipts. A male flight attendant came by and was shown the receipts. The cabin chief was consulted. “They might give you a refund. Write them when you get home.”

They were sold extra legroom at an exit row. They didn’t get seated there. Continental and their flight crew didn’t care.

A recent incident put greed in perspective. A passenger required hospitalization and could not take her American Airlines international flight. Medical proof was sent to American customer service and a request made to change the ticket for a time when the passenger was medically able to travel.

Customer service refused. The letter stated that they didn’t want to make the medical condition worse but they do not allow changes on “use it or lose it” tickets. I suppose a class-action lawsuit will be required to bring airlines to their senses since the U.S. government has been lax and inattentive to even basic control.

The only thing government has done is to waste taxpayer money with bailouts. Before freebies and bailouts government subsidized failing, badly run airlines with mail contracts. What did the taxpayer-passenger get for all of this? Nothing. When bail out money was paid, airline executives took their huge bonuses. No pay back will ever come to the government or taxpayers for this bail out scheme or on any other crooked politicians’ schemes favorable to friends that put them into office.

Free enterprise and capitalism are generally good concepts. Competition keeps check on excess in the market place. Collusion and price fixing, while against the law, is evident in the airline industry.

Why did they all charge for checked baggage? Did they conspire to do it, consult about it? It only takes a wink and a whispered word. At first airlines suspected passengers would complain. It was a test balloon. No real resistance so why not cash in on it. A hidden gimmick to make believe air fares are cheap. They are cheap no longer. Without government controls escalation of prices have been put into effect.

Now there are additional surcharges by airlines for fuel price increases. At the same time service is at the lowest ebb in history. Greyhound bus drivers are held to a higher standard and their baggage handlers remain courteous and helpful.

Why do passengers put up with the recent failure of airlines to provide service for value paid? The reason is society has turned vulgar and there is an overall lack of class in travel generally.

A long time travel writer, and veteran of the golden age of travel, decided to dress in frumpy, wrinkled clothes for a trans-Atlantic flight returning from Europe. The Romanian airline would not put her into business class. On the way over she was courteously treated to business class comfort. The difference was her dress. The passenger wore a business suit on the outward passage and wrinkled, frumpy clothes that she’d trekked around with all week on the way back. The European airline retained their sense of class and a dress code for business class.

Airlines are late without remorse. Service charges and ticket restrictions are draconian. Customer service has fallen to its lowest ebb in history. Prices? Well it depends on how clever a ticket purchaser is and how flexible the travel dates. Mine was not a cheap ticket to Belfast. The airline got me there and got me back. I would not recommend them to anyone since I was cramped in a small space and found the overall service unsatisfactory.

What can we do about it? Complain. Write a letter to the FAA if you can pinpoint a specific area of safety failure. Copy your Congressional representatives and insist on government control and refund of bail outs. Write the airline president if service fails to come up to expectations.

Behave. Dress as though you are going out to dinner; comfortable clothing can also be neat and elegant. No real need to wear your smelly jogging shorts and sneakers on the plane.

Show courtesy at every level. Everyone responds to a smile, even a hard-bit old stewardess that would likely make a good prison matron. Do not get angry. A psychologist I know is used to getting her way. She doesn’t relent until she does. She even called and got through to the President of the United States about an issue that concerned her. “I never get angry. If I get angry I’ve already lost.”

Good advice. The other is: take a bus.

Dr. John Christopher Fine is the author of 24 books on a variety of subjects. His articles and photography appear in major magazines and newspapers in the United States and Europe.


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