08 August 2007

The Plane Truth

An item in the August 4 New York Times titled "Passengers Scowl as Airlines Smile" finally confirms what anyone who's flown in the past few years already knows; namely, that the airlines have been consistently downgrading service to passengers. You know the drill: We get nothing to eat, inadequate seating space, dirty cabins and lavatories, broken equipment (e.g., seat-tilting controls), and, of course, regularly delayed or canceled flights.

Here's the bad news:

"For the first five months of this year, the on-time arrival rate of the big airlines was 73.5 percent, the lowest in seven years. Complaints about service were up 49 percent from May 2006. This summer, flights are booked at average levels of about 90 percent, a historic high. That means that if a flight is delayed, it is much more difficult for a passenger to get a seat on a later flight.

"Airlines make a simple calculation, comparing the loss from flying with an empty seat against the risk of bumping passengers, to whom airlines have to pay $200 or $400, depending on how quickly they can be rebooked."

The Times quotes Serguei Netessine, a professor at Wharton School of Business: "Previously, airlines worried about dissatisfied customers. Now I don't think they worry about it, because the customer service at all airlines is so horrible." [italics mine]