David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
NOT Traveling Blog, 2nd Week Of September
Eleven More Steps To Go…
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.
Something amazing happened this week – or did it? United Airlines decided to “permanently get rid of change fees for most economy and premium” domestic tickets. Shortly after that announcement, the other legacy carriers, Delta and American, also announced the elimination of these fees. Clearly this is not a bad thing – it’s actually a good first step. However, the last time I checked, most abuse recovery programs had twelve steps, and abusers were not considered recovered after only the first one.
Change fees had begun at a gouging but somewhat understandable $50 per ticket in the early 2000s, and crept-up to the unconscionable current $200 per ticket. Airline executives, raking in huge profits and slashing customer friendly services honestly believed they could get away with any up-charge they wanted to impose. Then, COVID19 happened.
(I’m reminding everyone again that I predicted this specific scenario when I spoke at the Freddy Awards a few years ago. That’s when I said to the gathered travel industry brass that they will likely “…move blindly forward, lying, overpromising and under delivering the most basic of services…until whatever the next incident is that causes the stock to drop and credit cards to get cut up. At that time they’ll once again need to dip into that bank of good will and find it completely empty, having dried up from lack of attention for years and years. And then, despite my presentation and hundreds of articles … from dozens of business travelers who take the time to write, the airline and hospitality industry management will tell the Wall Street investors that no one could have seen it coming.” Eerily, I also predicted a pandemic in a business blog I authored in 2014.)
So, the offensive and ridiculous change fees are now gone, and the airlines think that just because of this gesture that we should rush back to them (like a formerly abused spouse) with forgiveness in our hearts. Um, not so fast buddy. A simple promise that the abuser won’t slap us in the face anymore (even if they keep that promise in the long run – which I doubt) doesn’t mean the rest of the abuse has ended. The US airlines have morphed into a sadistic, abusive caricature of firms in what should be a service industry. Even if we were to trust the promises they make to us now, there is a much, much longer list of abuses that need to be ended and reversed if they want their customers to believe they are serious about becoming a service industry again.
· Lifetime has to mean “Lifetime” – Earning lifetime, million milers status on United used to mean achieving the second highest status on United. United’s former CEO Smisek (who was removed in disgrace) eliminated that promised benefit, relegating “lifetime” to a much lower status. The perks and benefits people strove for decades to achieve were pulled-out from under them at the very end. When a million-miler sued United over the changes, the court found the practice to be deceptive and disingenuous, but sadly, legal. As another example, American sold lifetime passes, but then infamously revoked them when people actually used them. If the airlines want us to believe they aren’t evil anymore, these benefits need to be restored to their previously promised levels. One should never trust a firm that promises something for a “lifetime” but fights in court for the right to make any changes to that promise that they want to whenever they feel like it. What makes the current promise of eliminated change fees any more permanent than any of the other promises?
· Loyalty has to me “Loyalty” – Even simpler than the broken lifetime promise is the broken promise of “loyalty” that is rampant in today’s US airlines. The list includes promised upgrades that never clear, promised preferred treatment and “waivers and favors” that rarely happen (except at the very highest spending tier) and promised value for frequent flying. If the airlines wanted to provide a gesture to convince the flying public that they should fly frequently again then they can restore the frequent flyer programs to what they were before the current Ponzi schemes that were recently imposed. Award “miles” for flying, not cash paid; provide benefits greater than ones you’d get from an affinity credit card; provide a limited number of earned upgrade “certificates” that actually clear when used; allow paying club-members to access all clubs again (domestically and internationally); etc.
Honestly, if the airlines did everything I ask above I STILL wouldn’t trust them enough to fly during today’s pandemic. The current crop of US airline management are proven liars over and over again, and I wouldn’t trust their promises of safety and aircraft cleaning if my life depended on it – which today it actually does. My greatest hope in this situation is that the pandemic causes the current batch of US legacy airlines to fail, and that a new ownership with a new focus on customer service grows from the ashes. But whatever does happen, the fact will not change that an abuser who announces that they’ll stop the abuse – be it physical or economic – but hasn’t atoned for it, is not deserving of praise nor respect. The twelve-step programs have at least eleven more they’d need to complete.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
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