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Is the Race to the Bottom Over?

Cindy Loose

Could a teensy, weensie uptick in airline hiring mean that the race to the bottom is over?

Writing a month ago about travelers who were delayed at airports and unable to find anyone at their airline to help them, either on the phone or in person, I quoted airline experts who said airlines have been engaged in bare-bones staffing in what is basically a race to the bottom. Said one of those experts, in so many words: Eventually the airlines will adjust and start hiring more staff, but it could take quite a while.

To those who can take comfort from small changes, consider this: After 25 straight months of overall staff cuts, the U.S. industry reports that last month, it had 405,400 full-time workers. That's an increase of 0.2%.

Not enough to insure that someone will answer the phone within a reasonable amount of time, and not enough to significantly reduce those lines at the airport, but a good omen, at least?

By Cindy Loose |  April 25, 2007; 9:35 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose
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No. The race to the bottom is not over. As long as consumers pick the airline with the lowest price, the race to the bottom will continue. All these people who say they would never fly JetBlue or US Airways again because of poor service can be lured back by offering them a fare that's $5 cheaper. The airlines are basically stuck in a slow-motion, ruinous price war from which they cannot escape.

Posted by: Rick | April 25, 2007 3:36 PM

I don't think the race to the bottom is over and the bottom is not yet in sight. I flew into Philadelphia yesterday (4/29) from Milan and re-checked my bag after going through customs for my flight to DCA. There was a 3-hour interval between flights. My husband's bag arrived at National, but not mine. Of course, it took over an hour for the last piece of luggage to emerge on the carousel and realize that mine was missing.

I reported it to the service desk in the baggage area, was assigned a claim number and went home. I called the 800 number on the claim ticket a couple of hours later (the bag was supposed to be coming on the next flight) and reached someone with a very heavy french accent, who gave me another number to call. I called the next number, listened to the recorded shpiel and when I finally got to the leave a message part, I was told the voicemail box was full!

So, I went on the web and left a message there asking for the status of my bag and immediately received a confirmation that they'd received my e-mail and would respond within 24 hours. This morning I received my response, which was "We'll get back to you in 48 hours!!"

In the meantime, we received a phone call at 5:45 this morning from a van driver delivering the lost piece of luggage, but if it hadn't come back, I'd have to return to the airport to speak to a person and find out what was happening. All the other avenues of communication are designed to buy time, not actually provide service or communicate with customer. Not good.

And my husband is gold level flyer and our bags were given the highly visible orange priority tag, so they can be expedited! So much for service even for their best customers.

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 12:52 PM

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