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Will You Pay More to Get More?

Cindy Loose

Ailrine executives have cut services to the bare bone -- including things like customer service -- because they believe that passengers just want the cheapest possible fare, and they're doing what they have to do to keep fares down. That, according to travel guru Terry Trippler, is what execs tell him, but he's not sure they're right. Are they?

Hard to know. But one bit of evidence to the contrary has just dribbled in:The CEO of Air Canada says many of his passengers are buying higher-priced tickets even when lower fares are available. Air Canada's lowest fares buy a seat that is assigned at check-in, and that's about it. Passengers pay more for tickets that include food and beverage, an advance seat assignment, the choice of changing flights.

I generally go for the lowest-price ticket because buying a higher-priced one isn't going to solve my biggest gripes -- long lines at check-in, long holds if you have to call an agent, and difficult customer service if a problem arises.

One thing's for sure: I don't want to pay more for a ticket so it includes airline food -- I'd rather bring something edible, or pay extra if what they're selling seems better than the stuff they used to give away. But I'd be willing to pay at least a bit more if I knew it was going to improve other kinds of customer service, and I think others would be willing, too.

Or do people really want bare bones if something better costs more?

By Cindy Loose |  April 2, 2007; 2:21 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose
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I buy higher priced tickets to get to the point of 'status' with an airline, because that a) gets rid of the long lines as I have my own check in and b) gets me a dedicated customer service agent who answers the phone (not a machine) and c) cuts me some slack when I need to do something 'non-standard'. In some airports I even get a private security line and a waiting lounge with a clean bathroom (or even a shower for the long hauls).

Flying like cattle sucks. Sorry to be snobbish, but it's such an ordeal to travel nowdays that I do whatever I can to make it as smooth as it used to be.

Posted by: Andrew | April 2, 2007 2:51 PM

I'll pay more to avoid certain airlines. Without naming names, I don't trust the cheapest airlines with my safety, and I don't trust the FAA enough to police them for me.

I would pay more for better customer service (shorter waits, the benefit of the doubt in borderline situations), but I don't fly enough to make a given airline's club level and I can't afford to be lavish enough with my spending to become an important customer in the eyes of the airlines, so I feel more or less stuck.

Posted by: csdiego | April 2, 2007 2:58 PM

In most travel decisions I don't mind paying more for what I figure is a plainly superior product or service. Nicer hotel, posher restaurant...

But paying more for a flight doesn't seem to get me anything. Sure, I pay more for direct flights and convenient departures but I know of no airline which can make a 9:00 flight to Saint Louis any more enjoyable.

Posted by: Greg4408 | April 2, 2007 3:04 PM

I pay more for the airline that has two-across seats.

Posted by: John | April 2, 2007 3:13 PM

I'd gladly pay 10% more just for a few extra inches of legroom. I'm 6'5, and was crammed into these tiny seats for a 12 hour trip to Alaska. (yes, I know about exit row, wasn't lucky enough to get them on the way out. On the way back, I got one, but it was first exit row window, so I couldn't recline the seat and no shoulder room)

Posted by: BF | April 2, 2007 3:15 PM

I don't think you should have to pay more for customer service...that is what they are selling: service! I am not buying the airplane seat, just the service of getting me from point a to point b. Regarding food, that depends. If it is a short flight, then I won't need food. However, longer flights with no stopovers require airlines to provide food because you have nowhere else to go. I would assume that they build the cost into the ticket and not nickel and dime you (snack is $5, etc).

Posted by: DB | April 2, 2007 4:14 PM


If I were guaranteed a little more room and decent service, I would gladly pay 10-20% more for a ticket. I don't need all the amenities of first class; I'd just like to be treated like a human being.

We definitely plan more vacations within driving distance because airline travel has become so unpleasant.

Posted by: Norm | April 2, 2007 4:22 PM

Everytime I've done the math recently it's always been that Metro charges me more per mile than any airline. On the other hand, Metro provides much better service than do most airlines in the U.S. So to the airlines, I say, yes charge me a few dollars more per trip or a few cents more per mile. However, for that little bit more make sure you give me working reading lights, planes that work and leave on time, a couple extra inches of room in the seats, and last but not least put in a luggage tracking system that equals what FedEx, UPS, and yes even the Post Office (for a fee)use for their millions of little packages and envelopes every day. I can't believe that the express package companies spend more than 50 cents or a dollar per package for the tracking systems they use. Even if it was 5 bucks a piece, I'd say to the airlines, please let me pay that $5 or $10 extra so you don't lose my bag. The lack of control and predictabilty is why I hate the airlines. They have it in their power to buy the technology and charge us all a few extra bucks on the price of a ticket to make it work. Tell me which you would choose an airline that's going to charge you $10 more for a round trip, but make it much more likely that your bag gets through to you or an airline that's $10 less, but gives you lousy service.

Posted by: I hate airlines | April 2, 2007 4:53 PM

I'm at that in-between point where I can't afford to pay enough to get decent service and comfort (e.g., in business class), but I can afford a little bit extra to make flights marginally more bearable. I'll pay a little more to fly to/from more convenient airports, at more convenient times, or on planes configured more pleasantly (as someone else mentioned, planes that have two seats across instead of 3 or 4). I have paid extra -- usually $20-30 -- to get a seat in United's "premium economy" class at check-in. The only benefit is a few more inches of legroom, but it's worth it, especially if I'm going to be stuck in a middle seat. I guess I'm paying extra by refusing to fly most of the really low-cost carriers, for safety and comfort reasons, and by refusing to buy any ticket where I can't select my seat in advance. I'd pay a few dollars more to fly an airline that really enforced its carry-on rules and kept out those gigantic bags that take up an entire overhead bin.

Posted by: MS | April 2, 2007 4:59 PM

At the end of the last baseball season, I flew to Boston for the O's/Sox series with two friends. They thought I was crazy to pay the $35 upgrade to first class; but, that is an upgrade that is well worth the extra legroom (not to mention the earlier boarding and free adult beverages).

But, overall, I really prefer trains whenever possible. They leave on time, there is way more space and you're in control of your own baggage. These are things you just can't pay for and flying has become such as ordeal.

Posted by: Dakota Pants | April 2, 2007 5:20 PM

I have the good fortune of living near Milwaukee where Midwest Airlines has a hub. I happily pay more to fly on Midwest whenever I can because (1) they treat me like a human, (2) their planes have first-class-quality seats in coach, and (3) they bake chocolate chip cookies on board during the flight and share them with the passengers. Numbers 1 and 2 have real value; number 3 has intrinsic value only. Taken together, they make a real difference I'm willing to pay for.

Posted by: Don | April 2, 2007 6:03 PM

I would always go with the lowest price as long as the plane arrived on time. Essentially all airline service is about the same. Why pay more when the flight is just a few hours? I seldom check luggage, can manage to feed and entertain myself, find frequent flier miles annoying, and book my own tickets over the Internet without talking to customer service representatives. If I can save $20 by not having to pay for the extra frills, I will buy a nice dinner at my destination.

Posted by: Rick | April 2, 2007 8:16 PM

While I agree that it is silly to nickle and dime travellers - you do get what you pay for and if you're not paying much for your airline ticket then you're not covering the cost of customer service (and why the heck should that be "free"?). In the past 10 years, the average price of an airline ticket has dropped drastically and so has the service that goes along with it.

Posted by: In the biz | April 4, 2007 11:28 AM

though Southwest tends to be one of the cheaper carriers, I find their service to be way superior to United or USAirways. I'll trade the non-reserved seat anytime for the fact that their on-time record is excellent, they give lots of snacks on the flight, and they let you change your ticket. I just had a completely miserable experience on United this past weekend (including a cancelled flight with an unrealistic re-booking). Never again.

Posted by: jae | April 4, 2007 1:24 PM

To add to what I wrote above, I'd concur with Norm: I try to avoid flying whenever I can. I will gladly drive as much as fourteen hours to avoid a flight that requires a connection, or even a direct flight on some airlines.

Posted by: csdiego | April 4, 2007 4:26 PM

Looks like the EU is getting serious about airline delays and passenger rights:

Airlines warned over compensation
Brussels has given airlines and national governments six months to make sure passengers get proper compensation for delayed or cancelled flights.

For the last two years, airlines should have been paying passengers up to 600 euros (£400) for a cancelled flight.

However, the European Commission says passengers are often not informed of their rights, and thousands each year say they have not received payouts.

The commission is threatening legal action unless the law is made to work.

It will be carrying out checks at airports over the next six months.

"We must make sure that airlines and member states fully comply with their obligations," said Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot.

Confusion

An independent study prepared for the European Commission said the regulation, introduced in February 2005, appeared to have had little effect on the level of delays, cancellations and overbooking.


COMMISSION PRIORITIES
Improving enforcement by national authorities
Clarifying the way airlines and member states interpret the regulations
Defining the difference between delays and cancellations
Strengthening the role of the national enforcement bodies

It blamed "ineffective enforcement" by member states and the wording of the law, which it said was unclear.

Most national authorities had not imposed any fines on airlines that failed to comply with the directive, the study said, despite having received thousands of complaints.

In cases where fines had been imposed, they had often not been paid, and the maximum fine was too low to be an effective sanction in several member states - such as Latvia, where it was a mere 215 euros.

Problems with the text of the law included a failure to define the "extraordinary circumstances" in which airlines can cancel a flight without paying compensation - with the result that many airlines adopted a definition "which includes almost every possible explanation for a cancellation".

The term "delay" was also undefined, the study said, leading to confusion about whether a delay of many hours counted as a cancellation.

Complaints increasing

The commission says the number of complaints from people who say they were not properly compensated has been increasing.

It received 4,000 complaints last year, while national authorities received more than 18,000 complaints between February 2005 and September 2006.

Low-cost airlines... appear to be unwilling to organise re-routing through other carriers, leaving passengers stranded for days at regional airports
Commission report
The commission is planning to bring forward legislation soon to ensure rail and boat passengers are better compensated for delays and cancellations, so it is keen to ensure the law on compensation for air travellers is working properly first.

The 2005 regulation lays down minimum standards of compensation and assistance in the event of overbooking, cancellations, delays and involuntary downgrading.

Depending on the circumstances, it requires airlines to:

* Provide passengers with assistance such as accommodation, refreshments, meals and telephone calls
* Offer re-routing and/or a refund
* Pay compensation of up to 600 euros per passenger
* Inform passengers about their rights

The commission, in its report issued on Wednesday, is critical of low-cost airlines, which it says "appear to be unwilling to organise re-routing through other carriers, leaving passengers stranded for days at regional airports".

It adds: "In these cases, some airlines reportedly refuse to provide appropriate assistance and hotel accommodation, or even to refund passengers."
Story from BBC NEWS:

Posted by: Garak | April 5, 2007 10:28 AM

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