Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Delta and United: A Modern Tale of Service

Allegheny Aloha American Brainiff Continental Delta Eastern Hawaiin National Northwest North Central Ozark Pan Am Piedmont PSA TWA United Western Every major legacy airline company at the time of deregulation has gone out of business, merged, or entered bankruptcy. The airline industry has lost more money over its existence than it earned. Too many airlines were serving too many cities with too many empty seats. Alaska and Southwest were small carriers at the time of deregulation 9/11 was devastating to the industry, the collapse of the economy six years ago, and the sharp rise in jet fuel has wrecked havoc on the carriers this century. Almost every entrant into the industry since deregulation has failed. Today’s survivors though have learnt how to survive. Consolidation has resulted in reduced competition, reduced capacity, rising fares, reduced in-flight services, and al a carte pricing as the airlines try to keep the base fares low. Service deteriorated. Meals, and in some airlines, even the peanuts, were eliminated. Charges were imposed for checked luggage. Cancellation and rebooking fees rose sharply. Overall service became pathetic on some airlines. United Airlines, once known for “Flying the Friendly Skies of United” has gone through a decade of deteriorating service as labor management relations entered a black hole. Pilots started flying “by the book,” causing flight delays and increased fuel costs. Even United frequent flyers started defecting to other airlines. The recent merger with Continental was supposed to change United’s performance. Continental’s management, which had rebuilt Continental’s image, took over management of the surviving carrier. Alas, the computer system crashed after the merger. United is trying to come back. Its on-time performance is improving. Passenger complaint rates are improving. Yet consumers ranked it the worse airline in April. United Flight 931 on June 16 from San Francisco to London reached a new low; even Spirit Airlines hasn’t gone that far. The 11 hour flight quickly ran out of toilet paper. The airline was so obsessed with on-time performance that it would not spend a few extra minutes at the gate restocking toilet paper. The flight attendants finally improvised by providing napkins reading “Fly by the tips of your fingers Make the United app your on-the-go travel center.” The United app doesn’t help when you have to go on the go. On the other hand we have Delta, which has become my preferred airline for the past five years, replacing an unreliable United. Jessie Frank had a rough day on June 13. She was catching an early Delta flight from D.C. to Atlanta to pick up her daughter from a Georgia summer camp for diabetics. Weather delays, cancelled flights, and equipment failures meant she spent the day at the airport. We all know how it happens. Finally, she was number 8 on the standby list for a late flight. Only 7 seats were open. Then, right before takeoff a gentleman gave up his seat and help her load her carryon. The gentleman who exhibited the Spirit of Delta was Richard Anderson, Delta’s CEO. He was still able to fly on the plane, but in the jumpseat in the pilot’s cabin. Jessie posted a thank you letter to him. He won’t comment because he was simply doing his job. He sets the tone for Delta. If you read the comments posted around the world on various posts you will find a sense of pride in the Delta employees, but one of “That’s United” by United employees.

No comments: