If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with…
Around 1996-1997 I lived in San Antonio and commuted to Chicago to work for Pepsi almost weekly. I typically caught the 6:50 am flight to O’hare and usually bought my ticket the prior day. The airfare was $600 and I did not pay any “fees” in addition to that. Occasionally, my work or family would require me to change flight times or even days for my return flight. I would just call the airline and request a seat on a different flight, or sometimes I might just go to the airport to seek a seat.
Fast forward many years, most airlines have declared bankruptcy, some multiple times and all seem to want to position themselves as a “low cost carrier” (Most customers seem to demand such a strategy).In order to keep the airfare low, the airlines have embraced a massively complex revenue system with the actual fare being only one component of the total revenue generated per passenger mile. If I want to take that same San Antonio Chicago flight described previously, my fare now would be $272 (3 week advance purchase). On top of that, however, I would pay $100 in baggage fee’s. If I wanted to change my return ticket I would then incur a minimum $150 “change fee” plus the “difference in the fare”, which is a closely held secret within their fare structure. Essentially I have no idea what it might cost to change my ticket, which means I have to contact them directly (of course they force you to explore this on their website and not with a real person). As a business customer, they have taken away almost all of my flexibility. And if this complexity is not enough, one need only turn to their flight cancellation policies for even more confusion. As a customer, I dread hearing the following statement, “I’m sorry Mr Clement due to “mechanical” (or weather) conditions we have had to cancel this flight l and leave you here. We do apologize for this minor inconvenience and we do appreciate your business” (Often, we believe the real reason behind this cancellation is that this flight didn’t generate enough revenue).
Today’s travel via airline, at least for me, is mentally and physically exhausting. Keeping the Experience Simple is clearly not the mantra in today’s airline business. I miss the simpler fare structure of years past, my clients miss it to as they cannot redirect me quickly to areas that need my attention. The airlines seem intent on growing their revenue stream through a massively, overly complex fare system. Sometimes, in this rush to complexity, I wonder if they ever slowed down to think about the customers experience. Have they noticed the 2nd order consequences of bag fee’s? For example, note the massive amount and size of carry-on luggage people bring on the plane. The rumored solution for this customer response is to charge for carry-on’s !
The airline business is very hard to be successful in, of this I have no doubt. Yet, in my opinion they are a great example of creating unnecessary complexity. It’s hard enough as it is, don’t make it harder on yourself.