Welcome to America. The land of the free and the home of the free market economy. The reason that you are getting the kind of treatment you are getting on the legacy carriers is very simple. You demand the lowest possible fare. Let me ask you an honest question, and please give me an honest answer:
There is no argument that JetBlue is a great airline. New airplanes, great people, TV
, legroom, reasonable fares.
Now, lets say that JetBlue is $75 higher than United (assuming this is the carrier on which you have your FF
miles) for the trip you need to take. Who are you going to fly? I'm going to bet you will say United. If I am wrong about this, that you are a better man than most, because you see the value in a good product.
If you are like 85% of the others in the marketplace, you will take the lowest price regardless of who the carrier is that will take you there. WHY? There are generally three reasons for this?
1. People generally regard airline pricing as a commodity. Since pricing changes hourly, it is important to buy it at the right time to get the best deal. Unless you have to get there at a certain time, you will shop until you find the fare you want. Most business travelers now are mandated to find the lowest fare, unless they have a program that makes them fly a certain airline to get a discount.
2. People do not appreciate service, therefore service providers do not provide good service, therefore people have bad feelings about service providers and people develop a cynical attitude toward service providers. As a result, service providers get treated badly in general and customers get treated badly in return and the result is a general sense in people that people don't provide good service anymore. Of course, there is a general sense in service providers that people do not appreciate what they do. Until this cycle of behavior gets broken...people will not develop a sense of value toward service. If there is no value built in service, people won't pay for it.
3. Competition and the concept of supply and demand. Right now, there is too much supply and not enough demand. When you factor in the state of the airline industry and the deep cuts in service and amenities, the competitive factor of the LCCs, and the fact that in some markets, the carriers (especially the legacy carriers) will give the seats away for nothing just to fill them up, you have a recipe for an implosion in the industry.
In other words, there is no incentive for you to look at anything else BUT price in your buying decision, because all those other options have been taken away from you in one fashion or another.
The bad news is that it isn't going to get better anytime soon. There has to be a "correction" in the US airline industry or a "right sizing" to occur before any improvement will occur in the economic outlook in the industry in the USA.
If we look at carriers overseas, the European carriers are starting to make money. Asian carriers were making money (pre-Tsunami), but the US carriers as a whole did disasterously. WHY? Their international markets did fairly well, but because such a large percentage of their businesses are domestic flying and those losses were huge, this is where the larger carriers are taking the bit hits. The news is that the situation is getting worse, not better. Carriers are taking even more drastic actions to cut their costs. Some of these cost cutting measures are really silly: example....today, American announced that it was doing away with pillows on domestic flights. They would save $370,000 annually by not having pillows on domestic flights. They have already done away with food, on some flights you can buy food.
Now, here is the thing: Because you want the lowest fare and because the airline cannot afford to do that and continue to operate, you get what you get. This is the chicken and the egg argument. If you want to fix it, what do you do first, do you fix the product, or do you change the mentality of the buyer? The first is hard if you have no money, the latter is damn near impossible. So, the reality is this: You have a choice.
My advice is simple. If you fly a lot, pick two carriers. One as your primary, the second as your backup when you can't use the first one. Give the first one ALL
your business. BE
LOYAL. If things go wrong sometimes, be flexible. BE
LOYAL. Why do I say this? Simple.
If you fly a lot and you are loyal, it will pay off in spades. the perks will come back to you. If you fly a little, you will become accustom to the way that carrier does things, so that when things don't go right, then you will know what to do because you will be familiar with their procedures and policies.
If you want to pick a LCC, then that's fine. If they go the places that you want and they have a loyalty program that works for you. Go for it. Personally, I have chosen Delta, because of their affiliation with American Express. I am a very LOYAL American Express customer and because of that, I am treated very well by Delta. Since Delta is a key partner in SkyTeam and since SkyTeam now includes Continental, Northwest, Delta, Air France, Korean, Alitalia, KLM and CSA, there are a lot of choices if I want to use an award. In addition, they have a reciprocal agreement with Alaska Airlines and I use Alaska exclusively up and down the west coast. I have all the perks associated with my status with American Express so I don't have to worry much when I travel...thankfully, because traveling anymore is a big pain in the butt.
Again, this is an example of how you can work things to your advantage working within the existing system. It is far from perfect. It isn't going to get better in the short term. However, being smart about traveling and knowing what to do, when to do it (and to whom) makes the difference and puts me in control of my travel (when 99.99% of people are not in control of anything, which makes traveling the most stressful activity for anyone).
I wish you (and everyone else) good luck
and happy trails....
David L. Lamb, fmr Area Mgr Alitalia SFO 1998-2002, fmr Regional Analyst SFO-UAL 1992-1998