Five reasons passengers looking for more than just a ride

As airlines cut routes and amenities while increasing fees, travel through the skies became a true labor. Sure, the cuts came as the result of market pressures that led to compensation reductions and other changes, but it also brought a problematic perspective. Somewhere along the way, it became acceptable for airline employees to claim that “you get what you pay for.” With low fares, essentially, you can expect substandard service.

Indeed, there is some truth to this. If you buy cheaper furniture, for example, you may be sacrificing quality to save a few bucks in the near term. We make these tradeoffs every day, and there’s no reason why a purchase from an airline should be any different. It’s clear that the standard has been set: you’ll pay less, and you’ll get a much lower level of service.

Take this concept to its ultimate conclusion, of course, is paying for physical movement, and you’re entitled to nothing else, despite the presence of beverage carts and headphones … not to mention employees who should provide a certain amount of customer service. I saw an interesting tweet to this effect not too long ago, claiming that transportation from Point A to Point B safely is what you’re paying those low, low fares for. But, I’m not so sure about that. There is so much more that’s explicit and implied in the air travel experience, and it’s delivered often enough that it should be expected.

So, why should we expect more than simply being taken from Point A to Point B? Well, here are five reasons why airlines are more than long-distance taxi services:

1. The airlines promise more than physical movement: Drinks are served on flights. Food is sold (or offered, depending on class and destination). There are movies and headphones and blankets and pillows, either free or for a fee. Whether you have to pay, in this regard, is irrelevant. The offering of amenities means that there is more involved in the transaction than the delivery of a seat from one place to another. So, something more than safe movement from Point A to Point B is implied.

2. Nobody wants substandard service: Basic customer service, which you can find on airlines only inconsistently, is expected in virtually every business transaction. While it doesn’t seem like much, this is an increase above the “physical movement” included in the price of a ticket.

3. A mere ride would (theoretically) cost less: Given that there are some services that could be sacrificed, a genuine low-cost, no-frills experience would cost less than existing flights. There would be no in-flight entertainment, no beverage service and no magazines tucked behind the seats. Rather than flight attendants, you’d have “safety professionals” (like lifeguards) who would only spring into action in the event of an emergency.

4. Low fares can still mean big money for passengers customers: While airline industry employees may drive home how cheap it is to travel these days, let’s not forget that unemployment is still through the roof, even if the recession did end more than a year ago. There are still plenty of mortgages at risk of delinquency and foreclosure. Simply put, the economic situation in this country is still dicey, and a little money is a lot when you don’t know how long you’ll have your job. Every dollar matters more to the consumer than it used to.

5. We’ve seen the possibilities: For everyone who has had a problem with a nasty flight attendant or a gate agent with a horrible attitude, you can find a story about one who helped someone out of a bind. I’ve had fantastic service on airlines that have reputations for anything but. And, some carriers have differentiated themselves through service (JetBlue and Southwest come to mind). We know it’s possible for airlines to do better; we’d just like to see it more.

[photo by UggBoy via Flickr]