Are passengers’ insatiable urge for cheap fares to blame for poor airline service?
Bill McGee, a former Consumer Reports Travel Editor and FAA-licensed aircraft dispatcher, thinks the answer is NO. In a column for USA Today, he argues that consumers are shafted by airlines and should not just take it sitting down.
Let’s start out with his premise:
Why are airline seats the lone products on the market that consumers are faulted for comparison shopping for the best price? Only with airlines are shoppers badgered over their choices in this oddest form of corporate victim-shaming.
Last week, I bought a half-gallon of 1 percent milk. The grocery store offered four choices, ranging from a premium brand at $3.99 to the store brand at $2.39. Since all four offered similar sell-by dates, I happily opted for the store brand. But what if later I discovered the milk was sour? Or the container had ruptured? Well, I would have asked for a refund and promptly received it. No one would tell me, “But you bought the cheap milk – what did you expect? Why didn’t you upgrade to Farmer’s Cow? You know better milk could be available, but people like you buy cheap stuff and hurt the rest of us!”
I find this such a poor analogy in so many ways. If milk represents airline tickets and you buy a flight that is canceled (sour) or a seat that is broken (ruptured), you WILL be re-accommodated or refunded. Airlines cannot just take the money and run…
McGee “happily opted for the store brand” and that is a wonderful choice for those consumers looking to buy affordable milk. Personally, I like organic milk and pay extra for it. And while I would love for everyone to drink organic milk, it is a scarce resource like the forward cabins of airplanes. It is also objectively more expensive to raise free-range cows that roam and eat grass instead of those fattened up for milk and meat in slaughterhouses. So too, the extra space and service in premium cabins comes at a cost. Just like there is a cost to making organic milk, there is a cost to more legroom.
More False Analogies
His diatribe continues with more false analogies:
If you lease an inexpensive car, you don’t expect the brakes to fail. If you book the cheapest hotel room, you don’t expect bedbugs. So why are you to blame if you buy the cheapest airline ticket and the seat pitch gives you deep vein thrombosis, a.k.a.“economy-class syndrome”? Or the flight is delayed? Or there’s no overhead bin space?
McGee doesn’t like the premise that consumers can sell away their comfort to save money. But his proposal of mandatory minimum seat pitch, overhead bin space, and service levels would price many out of the market. Deep vein thrombosis can be a problem even in business class and is best remedied by getting up and walking. That is why the seat belt light goes off. In essence, it is not a valid safety concern.
Another problem, McGee argues, is that most Americans who fly only fly once per year. Thus, they do not have the same expectations as the “coastal elites” over what to expect when buying a basic economy fare. Actually, airlines have gone out of their way to discourage passengers from buying basic economy fares, hoping they will pay more for standard fares. A passenger really has no basis upon which to complain if they accept the disclaimers associated with basic economy class fares.
He concludes that we are being treated unfairly:
Just because many passengers want to pay less doesn’t mean they asked for tight seats and poor service. Sour milk is sour milk – at any price. So never let the airfare determine if you should defer fighting for your passenger rights or accept being treated unfairly.
Sour milk is not tight seat pitch. The seat is still FAA-verified and has undergone strict and strenuous safety tests. It’s not like U.S. airlines are throwing people in the back of the pick-up truck…(that’s TUI and not acceptable).
We are in a wonderful era of cheap fares. I love the downward pressure on pricing that the ultra-low-cost carriers bring to the market. In McGee’s world, everyone would pay more for airfare to have more legroom and other amenities that are likely not as important as saving money to many passengers. The market is not our savior, but the market is working here. A passenger cannot sell away her safety, but a passenger should certainly be able to trade in her comfort.
What do you think about blaming passengers for poor airline service?