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August 25, 2015

The airline business is in dire need of a shakeup. 

Any industry that demands full payment months in advance, and then can resell your seat to another passenger, reeks of collusion and monopoly.
Combine that with the petty baggage fees, sardine seating, and food service that would embarrass McDonald’s, and you have an industry run on greed that has been allowed to use their monopolistic powers in the worst of ways.
FlyersRights is encouraged by the Justice Department ‘s collusion investigation into the US airline industry, but has little faith in a bureaucracy that allows political parties and the airline industry to have significant power.

History Will Not Be Kind To This Industry

Let’s start with the whole “charge for baggage” which was set up when airlines faced surging fuel costs.  Doing so added revenue to offset higher prices, by making passengers pay for the extra weight.  Even with $40/barrel oil, there’s no going back with all that extra money flowing in.

Costs have dropped sharply for airlines, pushing profits higher. But today their stocks are in a slump as airlines face labor problems, competition probes and jittery investors.
A recent small decline in ticket prices has cut the airlines’ unit revenue – which measures the amount of money taken in for each passenger flown a mile. Investors are fixated on that metric. 
This metric effectively says that even if you are making record profits, that’s irrelevant. What’s important is that your customers are paying more per mile every year.

In short, Rome could be burning but if the airlines aren’t somehow making record profits, they’re doing something wrong. Where is this money supposed to come from? The employees they’re underpaying?

In other words, what’s important to investors is that you offer less value to your customers every year than you did the year before.
Are The Airlines Really Giving Passengers “What They Want?
On a weekly basis we get naysayers telling FlyersRights: It’s a great state of affairs! What part of “Free Enterprise” don’t we understand? Businesses charge only what the market will bear in such a system! Customers always want their cake and eat it too.

Yet we find it hard to disagree with the notion that flyers want the cheapest possible fares.  Who doesn’t want the lowest cost for anything?  
But we also find it hard to disagree with the astounding decline in the quality of the seat, customer service, cleanliness, etc. We now get less than we pay for.

The airlines insist low airline prices are encouraged by the use of cafeteria-style pricing plans for luggage size and weight, onboard meals, drinks and seat sizes. Cafeteria pricing plans also encourage passengers to reduce the weight of onboard luggage which reduces fuel usage for the planes while paying only for those amenities they really want or need.
FlyersRights understands “free enterprise,” having been founded by a successful entrepreneur, Kate Hanni. But the part of “free enterprise” that the airlines don’t seem to understand is that there’s such a thing as unequal bargaining power, where one party controls the conditions of the transaction – and the customers, who have very little bargaining power, have to accept the terms on a “take it or leave it basis.” 
As air travelers, we can’t just “leave it,” and airline consolidation now has created an oligopoly market where airlines can cooperate through winks and nods without violating antitrust law. 
Under such conditions, profits of the oligopoly are maximized, not the efficient pricing that would exist in a truly competitive market with more equal bargaining power among the parties. If most air travelers agree thatflying is a miserable experience, then something needs to change.

What do you think? Should government intervene?
Write your representatives  in Congress about the health and safety issues that currently exist in the airline industry. Tell them about your last baggage problem. Count up the responses and send them to FlyersRights at
Is there an effective way to change airline policy? We think so. It’s time for an updated Passenger Bill of Rights

Double Dipping!
Is a “NO show” just an excuse to sell the same seat twice?
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Why do do we need to check in? 
It should be possible to assign a seat directly after booking.
When airlines are selling tickets for $100 and charging $500 to change them, no one wastes their time trying to change the ticket or inform the airline they’re not showing up.
The “NO-show” has become an excuse used by the airlines to sell the same seat twice. Yet the airlines could save more money by eliminating the whole check-in process, even when you factor in the additional revenue they can potentially generate by overselling. 
Overselling flights might have been useful when load factors were in the mid 60%, but today when 90% of planes are departing 98% full, it’s hard to rationize overselling planes. 
The airlines like to cry that airfares would rise because No-Shows cost them money in unsold seats. Their preferred term is a “spoilable product”. That’s also the rationale why fully-flexible fares are so high, as it costs the airlines too much money when passengers don’t show up. And those seats could’ve been resold otherwise.

We’re still waiting for the explanation of how airlines lose money on No-Show passengers when the seats have already been paid for, other than it gives an opportunity to gain additional revenue. 
And, there is no factual evidence that revenue generated by overbooking is passed down to passengers in the form of lower fares. 

In the US most tickets and vacation packages are sold as non-refundable and non transferable. The airline keeps the revenue for the seat if you don’t show up. 
Your Letters:!
In response to last week’s newsletter: That’s What Friends Are For
Dear Flyers Rights.
I want to thank you for your newsletter, the last one brought a wave of nostalgia on me.
Reading the list was impressive, how wonderful flying used to be.
I fly frequently, mostly in Europe, Middle East, Africa.  I have been doing this for the past 25 years.
What I can say is that there has been a steady errosion of service and comfort. 
Flights are more late than on time. Even if you are 1st class one gets caught up in the
tardiness and cancellations.
Regardless of where I fly or when I fly, the flights are always overbooked.
The security is hassle, I guess there is a universal training camp that everyone in
the world is sent to, they are 99% of the time, rude and bullying.  The USA and UK
are the worse (I am a US Citizen).
I am struck by how unprofessional, angry, and rude the US Customs and Border Protection
personel are.  I have never been treated by German Security the way my own country treats me.
They are courteous and professional
You can imagine how this goes over with visitors to the USA.
The last 2 times I was in the USA my flights across the country were cancelled. The staffs (UNITED AIRLINES!)
were ignorant und not helpful.
When I visit the USA in the future I will make time to drive or take a train.
Thanks again for your efforts.
Munich, Germany
Dear FlyersRights:

Well that certainly brought back some old memories of the days when
flying was actually a civilized mode of transportation. I remember
flying to Europe on the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. Pan Am was so proud
of this plane they made a 24 minute promo film of it, here:

It included a spiral staircase down to a full bar on the lower level,
complete with comfortable sofas and a piano.

I also remember many trips to Europe on the DC-7C when I was little.
First class was in the back of the plane and included Pullman style
berths with comfy sheets, blankets and pillows where you could stretch
out, draw the curtain and sleep comfortably. I also got invited up to
the flight deck regularly where I could spend as long as I wanted,
marveling at the sight of the pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer,
navigator, and radio man all doing their jobs as we rumbled through the
night across the Atlantic. And there may not have been inflight movies
or wi-fi, but there was always an ample supply of newspapers and
magazines from many countries. There were also complimentary
pocket-sized board games you could keep. I still have little sets of
checkers and chess, courtesy of Swissair. And of course, the airlines
used to hand out complimentary carry-on bags with their logos on them.

My dad was a good customer of Swissair, back in the days before the term
“frequent flyer program” existed. Swissair gave him his own personal
agent who would arrange all our travel plans. She made sure the tickets
were always ready and waiting to be picked up at his convenience. Even
pre-boarding was done differently. Instead of a blaring loudspeaker
call for families with children, the gate agent would approach us in the
lounge and whisper that our flight was ready to board. No one had to
remove any part of their clothing, get x-rayed, or stick their arms up
like a street thug getting frisked by the cops. You just walked on and
sat down.

Some time ago I just started boycotting the airlines entirely. For
short trips, I drive. For longer trips I fly my own plane. For trips
to Europe, well I just don’t go anymore. Sadly, I don’t think the
current situation is going to change until enough people get fed up and
stop buying the crappy product provided by today’s airlines. There’s
always Etihad, but then you have to fly to Abu Dhabi. You can’t win.


Dear FlyersRights:
Laughed out loud.   Brought back the memory of one of my first flights.  It was the late ’60’s, I was 18, newly enlisted in the Navy and was going to Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut.   Flew National to Kennedy and then Pilgrim Airline on to Groton—airline ’cause they had just one plane, a DC-3.   In uniform several of us went to a bar. The barmaid promptly said “Hope you squids ain’t flyin’ Pilgrim.  They crashed last week, killed everybody.” 
She was kidding….we ordered doubles.

Dear FlyersRights:

Enjoyed reading Dan Prall and Matt Hesser’s reminiscences of what flying USED to be.

How about another perspective, that from a former flight attendant?

I was a flight attendant from 1972 to 1982 (son was born that year and I decided not to go back) for American Airlines so I officially quit in ’83.    At the time I was hired I was one of the ‘oldest’ in the class
at 25 years old!  I got one of the first  base choices but Dallas/Ft. Worth was not available so I chose LGA (LaGuardia).  I lived in a small building in Queens, three apartments, which were full of grads from my class.  In my own apartment it was another woman and a guy for our two-bedroom apartment.  If you walked down the street, you’d be greeted often with ‘Hi
I had a number of flights that were on the 747 and the DC-10 which both at that time had ‘piano lounges.’  Late night flights were particularly sparse with passengers.  The same year I was hired, Bonnie Tiburzi was hired as the first female pilot for a major airline (that was also American Airlines).    As I recall, she was featured (for one) in Glamour Magazine.
In coach, even on a short flight like one of NY’s airports to Chicago, we would serve a choice of THREE entrees in coach for breakfast, lunch AND dinner.    I recall it  often included either  chicken kiev or lasagne for two of the choices for either lunch or dinner.    Before the flight began, we would hand out pillows, blankets and a selection of magazines.
I personally tried to greet EVERY person who walked on the airplane whether in first class or coach.  Names were mandatory in first class and if there weren’t too many people, we would jot down names in coach, too.
If a flight were delayed in any way, often the Captain would usually  declare ‘free drinks’ for the entire plane!
At first, pilots had their own single rooms but flight attendants had to share (two to a room).    Later, our union got us  our own rooms for layovers.  Often in those days the crew would go out together to eat and some layovers were quite lengthy and wonderful.
During those years I saw the piano lounges eliminated, and they gradually added more and more seats to each plane’s configuration.  I ended up mostly flying 707’s and 727’s in those years.    As a flight attendant, we were regularly observed
by flight attendant supervisors, , sometimes we knew they were on board, sometimes we did not.   But we always got the critiques and ratings later and they were quite lengthy.
Some friends regularly got ‘weight checks’ because they were deemed ‘overweight.’
  We were never allowed to sit down except for takeoff, landing and occasional bad weather.  We always had to be out in the aisle talking to people, seeing if people needed anything and just generally being pleasant and available.  We were never allowed to read a book or a paper (except perhaps in the galley on the sly).  We certainly couldn’t do needlework or sit and talk to another flight attendant as most do now.    I turned from a fairly shy young woman to one who was quite articulate with virtually any type of passenger.
I was able finally to transfer to Dallas/Ft. Worth (I had grown up in Oklahoma City so that
was better for me) where I was quickly ‘laid off’ (would have been safe had I stayed in NY).
I had secretarial skills and ended up working for the AA employment director for a time
till I was called back.  That was fun because we were interviewing pilots in those days.
American continued to add more and more seats but even on very short flights there were peanuts and drinks even if the plane hadn’t leveled off and we were out in the aisles with those heavy carts.   A flight of more than an hour commanded a meal.   We never picked up garage with bags, it was always via carts or carried back to the galleys.  After meals and close to landings, we might have 5 or more trays we were carrying back and stuffing in the galleys.
Before I left, American had adopted a ‘two-tier’ pay scale so new hires were paid much less than I was.  When I was working, a flight attendant definitely made more than a secretary and TDY added a lot to your pay.  We paid for our own uniforms and though I wore comfortable shoes on flights, I always wore heels in the airports and I preferred to 
wear dresses.  You also had to wear hose with heels and your hair and makeup had to be perfectly groomed and nice.
I am appalled when I hear flight attendants (once sitting in back of my seat in empty seats) talking poorly about passengers, talking about how ‘hard’ their job is and generally
not being a symbol of their  airlines in a positive way.  The horrible seating, the lack of 
food of any kind on many flights, the ‘cattle car’ atmosphere is a long, long way from
the glamorous days when I was a flight attendant.

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