What do we typically do when choosing a hotel? We look at its location, proximity to a place we want to visit, price and we tend to investigate the value we get for our money, which is typically represented by the equipment provided in the room. Because we do not like to part with our money too easily, we also often check what others say about it on a review site such as Expedia.com or Tripadvisor.com. If others didn’t like it, we rather pay a bit extra and get something better.
At the end of 2012 I flew twice to the US on business. The first trip was with United Airlines and the second one with American Airlines. And that’s when I started drawing comparisons between my expectations from a hotel industry and what I deem “acceptable” in air-travel business …
As unlucky as I was, my first trip saw my outbound United Airlines flight cancelled. Little quarrel at the check in desk got me on a flight with Air New Zealand to Los Angeles. I was naturally annoyed about the change in my already stretched itinerary, but my mood changed quite quickly as I sat down in my economy class seat. The seat was comfortable, clean, new and overall really nice. There was space to stretch my legs. All passengers got headphones and were given very good size touch screens with lots of new movie releases or good music selection or other entertainment. The food was good and staff very kind. Air New Zealand was allegedly scoring high on the airline of the year and I could tell why.
In Los Angeles I had to change back to the United and that’s where my travel comfort ended in 2012. Apart from the fact that the United flight was delayed by 1.5hrs because the staff simply didn’t show up, the plane was old, worn off and I’d nearly say dirty. The same happened on my trip back and it only got worse when I boarded American Airlines on my trip to Chicago one month later.
Just for comparison, few interest points about American Airlines planes. First of all, forget “space” if you’re in economy. Actually, forget it if you’re also in “economy plus” and don’t expect much in business. Imagine a low cost airline kind of leg space, but here you have the pleasure to suffer it for 8 hours instead of maximum 2! The next question is where to put your arms. If you’re wearing a suit, your problem feels a notch bigger. I guess the answer is to pay additional £1,000 and fly business or stay at home until you can pay or your company does that for you. But back to your “reality”. Many passengers tend to start checking their personal in-fight entertainment! Well, nothing for you here, but then your plane was built in 1980′s or if you’re lucky in 1990′s and at that time there wasn’t such thing – so make sure you bring a book. Yes, there will be a small 10″ monitor hanging 3m away from you and if you buy headset for $2, you will have the pleasure to listen to movies you’ve probably already seen on Tv. The good news is, as you will be surely informed by a cheesy movie clip, that American (surprisingly United play their version of the same clip too) are considering a sizeable investment to upgrade their fleet sometime in the future. So imagine and be happy, ok?
So what does this tell you? My impression was that I was being ripped off! The flights with United, American, Air New Zealand or any other airline are very much the same price, or similar. Had I been informed that I was to enjoy comfortable 10hr flight to California with Air New Zealand and a discomfort on the way back, which was only beaten by even worse flight as a curtesy of American Airlines one month later? No! Could I have found out? No!
I think that there is a market opportunity that, for some reason, is not being leveraged by those airlines that could do so. It is a full disclosure of what customers can expect onboard when buying a ticket and parting with lots of their cash. Apart from being given the basics, customers could be told that a 10inch touch screen is given to everyone, headphones included, offer of a great music selection and extra space available. Yes, I would pay extra for all this rather than feeling like a involuntary donor to the failing business of United Airlines and American Airlines. These two companies even feel it’s ok to tell me that I’m paying money today for their inadequate quality of service, in exchange for a promise that one day they might just about catch up what others already offer today! And keep smiling while doing it because, hey, what else do you do, right?