Thursday, April 24, 2008

My solutions to the airline crisis

Now that oil is priced about on par with caviar, minor airlines are dropping like flies and major airlines are loosing gazillions of dollars. I have decided to give the major airlines some free advice, since I know that if I were having problems, they would go out of their way to help me.

1. Simplify your fleets of airplanes. Take a look at this chart of Delta and Northwest. They are seemingly trying to operate one of every type of airplane.

2. Simplify your fare structure. Stop wasting millions of dollars on computers that try to predict the maximum fare people will pay, and go to a simplified fare structure. Shopping for a flight should be like finding a hotel or a rental car, not be like playing the stock market.

3. Either make frequent flier programs useful, or get rid of them. I have recently spend hours and hours on the phone with various airlines attempting to redeem miles or change a flight. What a waste of my time and their money. Invariably, I am left dissatisfied by what was once a "loyalty program". If a flight is not available, I should at least be able to be put on a wait list.

4. Get better web sites. I have recently discovered glitches on Continental's web site that made it impossible to book flights shown as available. United's web site does not have any way to search to redeem miles for partner travel, or to change itineraries on partners. Their advice to me is to keep calling back. What a waste. Every time someone has to call an airline, the website has failed and the airline has wasted money.

5. Get rid of the fees. I really doubt they earn much on these, they just piss customers off. United just announced their "change fee" is now an outrageous $150. If their web sites worked well, they could easily offer changes with no fees as a feature. They could actually make money since changing to an earlier flight frees up a seat that could later be purchased.

6. Use larger aircraft with fewer flights between destinations. There are about 30 flights a day between Denver and Las Vegas, almost all using aircraft that seat less than 150 people. Ditto between New York and Chicago, San Francisco and LA. A plane twice as large still requires just two pilots, and would be much more efficient in almost every way. A side effect would be less congestion.

7. Use turboprops like the Q400. Horizon airlines has just decided to standardize their fleet with this type. This airplane is as quiet as a jet and nearly as fast, while consuming %30 less fuel. Stop whining about fuel prices and do something.

8. Help fix the TSA. Everyone knows it is a joke, and people hate to fly because of it. If all the airlines got together on this, I believe they would have some influence.

9. Forget the mergers. Once you reach a certain size, there really are no further efficiencies to be gained. On the contrary, the process of merging will take a decade and will be very expensive. In fact, you could make a better argument that mega-airlines will be less efficient.

10. Be honest. Display real time flight and weather information at the gate. Passengers now have access to the internet at the airport and they know when they are being lied to. Show the actual availability of frequent flier seats in advance, otherwise frequent flier programs are just a con game.

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