David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
NOT Traveling Blog, 2nd Week Of January 2021
David Danto’s ongoing list of disjointed and occasionally random observations and thoughts as we wait-out the pandemic – mostly NOT traveling like we used to.
As I was reading my morning, on-line news today I came across an article bemoaning how much growth the airline industry has lost during the pandemic.
Anyone who has read my blogs knows that I called-out early how devastating and long lasting this pandemic would be (while many others were looking at the situation through rose colored glasses.) So the idea that this industry has lost all of its progress of the last 20 years should come as no surprise to them. But that’s not the reason this particular article stuck-out at me.
I read the line about 20+ years of growth and I couldn’t get past the fact that I fundamentally disagreed with the premise. The “growth” is incontrovertible if you are only thinking in monetary terms. The industry barons thrived, prices were unbundled and rose, airline company costs dropped, fees were jacked-up, etc. Yes, if you live and breathe Wall Street you’d call it a period of sustained growth.
But what about the traveler? How can he or she refer to the last two decades as anything but set-backs?
As a frequent flyer I’d propose that the period in question represented nothing but unprecedented failures. The ‘User Experience’ – a metric that all service industries has come to understand to be the true measure of success – was severely diminished across the board during that time:
· Airline loyalty programs were gutted. Airline management viewed them as a cash cow – not as a responsibility to be good to the customers that were being good to them. Upgrades disappeared, “waivers and favors” disappeared, award charts and award availability disappeared, decades old promises to long-time customers were forgotten, fairness disappeared.
· Airline in-seat experiences were gutted. Whether we are discussing seat comfort, seat spacing, meals service, IFE, heck – even the freaking size of the seat-back pockets – all were decimated. If you weren’t paying for a full-fare, first-class seat you were most definitely in steerage. And, if that first-class seat was on a typical domestic US flight, you likely only experienced what coach was like two decades earlier.
· Airport experiences were gutted. Lounges raised prices, reduced services, and in many cases were also reserved only for travelers buying the highest-priced tickets. Limitations were placed on food and drink items that could be brought into the airport in the guise of security, when in actuality it merely protected airport vendor’s price gouging (with it often costing the price of a case of water to buy a bottle of water.)
· Airline routes were gutted. Smaller airports and “non-profitable” routes were reduced or eliminated. Any feeling of responsibility to the public for using their airports and their airspace was forgotten.
· Honestly was gutted. It’s now completely understood that US airline management just routinely lies about everything. They lie about “changes our passengers have asked for” that only serve them; they call service elimination and perk elimination “improvements;” and they perpetuate a culture where big and little lies are just accepted at every level of the flying experience. This includes things like publishing known hours-long delays in 10-15 minutes increments to make it seem minimized, listing flights as on-time when its clearly known for hours that the arriving aircraft will never make it on-time, and claiming that “federal law” gives them the right to act certain ways when no such laws exist. And let’s not forget how they’ve consistently lied about how safe flying is during the pandemic, going against all logic and CDC guidance.
· Airline safety was gutted. As has been well documented over the last few months, the US government winked-at airplane manufacturers and airlines, allowing them to self-check safety procedures in design, certification and operation.
In many of my travel blogs over the last two decades I regularly pointed-out that this artificial period of financial growth was unsustainable. It could be best visualized as taking-out bricks from a structure’s foundation and placing them on top to build higher. Without that solid foundation of excellent service and great experiences in place the industry would surely collapse. At the time the first issue would arise – be it a terrorist attack, a safety crisis, or – as happened – a deadly pandemic, the flying public would drop airline travel like a hot potato – and that’s exactly what occurred. With apologies to those who’ve already read it too many times, I again quote my 2017 blog here:
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not happy about what has happened to the airline industry. The current pressures will more than likely hurt the innocent employees and the flying public much more than evil management in charge through till today. The difference for me is that I saw this situation as inevitable years ago – while greedy airline management were pocketing huge bonuses, and investors were patting them on the back – all as more and more bricks were being removed from the foundation of what should still be a service industry.
So, ultimately, I do hope the whole industry is blown-up. The past two decades of “growth” should be completely erased – not just the profits, but the evil, counterproductive-to-service processes by which they were achieved. Then, hopefully, we can begin to see the rebuilding of an industry that we all want to succeed – but have that success be based on service and performance excellence.
As always, please feel free to write to me with comments or items I should add to a future Not Traveling blog (or if you just need someone to write to.) Stay safe, be well, hug those you’re sheltering with (but no one else) and do your best to stay positive. We’re going to be in this for a while longer.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.
The Explanation for my Not Traveling blogs: In 2014 I was voted by USA Today readers as one of the top ten business travel bloggers in the USA. Now mind you, I turned out to be number ten on the list of ten, but I did make it on (with my thanks to all those who voted.) Now that we’re all stuck at home and not traveling, I had to think about what to do with my blogs. I could stop writing them entirely – waiting till we all get through the current COVID19 pandemic / crisis. I could wax nostalgic and/or complain about past trips. Or, I could focus all of my efforts on my day job – growing the use of collaboration technologies – especially in light of how many people are now forced to use those tools for the first time. In reflecting upon those choices, what I decided to do is compile an ongoing list of observations during the crisis. Some of these may amuse, some may inform, some may sadden and others may help. My goal will be for you to have seen something in a different light than you did before you stopped to read the blog. I was going to apologize for how disjointed these thoughts may seem when put together, but then it dawned on me that feeling disjointed is our new normal – at least for a little while.