Your browser is out of date and may not support all of the features of this website. Please use a more modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or a current version of IE.

How Commercial Airline Service Has Changed

Inside view of a planeLately, commercial airline service has been providing us with a stream of entertaining, alarming and sometimes outright scary passenger experiences. For those of us in the “more mature” demographic, we might harken back to kinder, gentler times, when air travel was glamorous and special.

To generation X, Y, Z, or whatever you are calling yourselves these days, cramped cabins, a few nibbles if you are lucky, and testy air crews is all you have ever known. How did we get here? Surely, the business model of scheduled service airlines cannot be to treat their passengers poorly. There must be more to it than that. It turns out there is. Deregulation, the great unbundling, and Joe Traveler getting exactly what he wished for, all played a role in making scheduled service air travel for the most part just awful.

Changes to Commercial Airline Service

1. Deregulation

In its more nascent days, airlines needed the help of government regulation to ensure that the U.S. air transportation sector would grow and expand. This limited competition by restricting the number of airlines allowed to provide a product. A product that frankly was not sustainable in the open market. When deregulation occurred, competitors sprung up, and legacy airlines were forced to adjust their business models.

Under a regulated environment, niceties could be built into the pricing because there were far fewer competitors:

  • Here’s a nice meal.
  • Let’s not put too many seats in the aircraft so people are comfortable.
  • Let ‘em check a couple of bags – no problem.
  • Of course, they should get an open bar, are we barbarians?!
  • You could even smoke (but that’s another blog for another time).
  • When market realities changed, the “legacy” airlines had a very difficult time adjusting.

Demonstrated by overcapacity (too many empty aircraft all flying the same routes) and frequent bankruptcies. However, airlines did eventually adjust to the new normal. The adjustments that they made manifest in our travel experience and show the quality decline of commercial airline service.

2. The Great Unbundling

Airlines realized that their smaller low-cost competitors were not offering the additional amenities that had historically had been included with a ticket. Checked bags, meal service, and space were all removed from the passenger experience, in exchange for a lower price. These services were sometimes still available but at an additional cost. This great unbundling of services and amenities realigned airline costs to better reflect their offerings and the corresponding price paid by the customer.

What airlines generally found was that most travelers bought tickets like a commodity. Essentially believing that all the airlines are the same and the lowest price drives purchase decisions. Accordingly, airlines focused on the one metric of price to match customer buying behavior. We can still have a meal, comfortable seat, additional checked bags – but it costs more.

3. Getting What We Asked For

Because the flying public emphatically puts cost above all else, virtually all airlines now focus on low price to attract customers. To drive pricing down, aircraft need to be able to carry the maximum number of passengers possible. This has created a different kind of space race. One where airlines will keep pushing the number of seats that can safely fit into an aircraft. All the while customers have increasingly less personal space. At the same time, Americans are, ahem, getting larger.

Baggage, meal service, and other amenities are now cost profit centers instead, have shifted from being cost centers profit centers. Not only are airlines hoping to fly full, they utilize algorithms to (try to) determine how many people will not show up for a flight. With this information, they then book passengers on seats that do not exist. The result has been some very public and unceremonious removals of paying passengers. The flying public’s quest for cheap travel has been achieved, but it came at a cost.

Now What?

In the children’s book “Osbert”, the main character is a young boy that wants a real penguin. When he finally get one, he names it Osbert and he can’t believe how hard it is having a penguin. The tight, uncomfortable conditions that our buying behavior has created in the air is our Osbert. These changes to the experience of commercial airline service has created a very stressful environment. This includes air crews that must work in this environment daily. This does not excuse the bad behavior du jour that is coming out of the airline industry, but it certainly is conducive to people behaving badly.

While private jet charter is typically more expensive, the privacy, flexibility, and convenience of air charter transportation present a compelling value proposition. Imagine what removing the stress of the modern scheduled service system can do for your staff, clients, family, and friends. Consider how replacing what is usually an experience that is to be endured at best with the high touch, relaxed, and customized solution of private air charter transportation. The next time you are stuck in that middle seat stuffed between two strangers vying for armrest real estate, remember that there is another way – fly private!

Consider how replacing what is usually an experience that is to be endured at best with the high touch, relaxed, and customized solution of private air charter transportation. The next time you are stuck in that middle seat stuffed between two strangers vying for armrest real estate, remember that there is another way – fly private!