Personal observations from an RDU ramper.
Very busy weekend, with Carolina fans going to San Antonio for the Final Four basketball tournament, public school kids coming home from spring break week and the sudden shut-down of Skybus Airlines, meant that a lot of people were scrambling for the few available seats that were left. Definitely need to look into a massage therapist to work out the kinks after a weekend like this one. The point is, with everything happening this weekend, the overwhelming number of passengers traveling this weekend experienced no inconveniences, they were able to check-in, board their flight and arrive at their destination in a timely manner. The majority of these travelers I'm sure felt as though they received good value for their money.
The media wants to focus on the things that can and do go wrong with air travel and with the complexities of heightened security requirements, increased air traffic, high fuel costs, etc. there certainly are many opportunities to "point the finger", as it were, and claim the system is broken. The fact remains that ticket prices for the most part remain very reasonable for domestic travel (which is a big part of the reason for the majors focusing more on international routes) and despite all of the "hype" surrounding missed inspections and broken equipment, we are still in the safest stretch of accident-free commercial travel in aviation history. I am not arguing that the end justifies the means, but frequently when dealing with the Federal government, one must realize that many of their mandates are not based on any "real-world" estimation of exactly how long it takes to inspect 500+ aircraft and not cancel hundreds of flights in doing so (witness the American, Delta and Northwest fiascoes as they played catch-up last week).
The airlines certainly are not without culpability in the current turn-of-events. Poor communication with their customers regarding canceled flights, oversales, equipment failures and unfavorable weather conditions continue to feed the perception of an uncaring, disconnected megastructure, that has apparently forgotten the basic tenets of taking care of the customer. Downsizing, pay cuts and the continued deterioration of societal mores in general, have resulted in the most disturbing levels of bad customer service behavior among front-line employees at a time when the need for quality care is higher now than it has ever been. The public taste for getting more for less is also not based in reality and certainly ignores the basic economics that are currently going on in this industry. Everyone needs to wake up and acknowledge the fact that we are in the midst of a period of turbulent change and we will have to adjust our thinking accordingly.
Southwest Airlines 35 years ago established a reputation for providing basic transportation at a fair price. No frills, no in-flight movies, no fancy meals, just the basics of what you want from an airline, safe, comfortable point-to-point transportation at rates that everyone could afford. As the pressure to remain profitable has increased, the talking heads in Dallas have started to drift from that business model and started making some of the mistakes that others have before them. Despite all of that, despite the mistakes that have been made, the airline still runs the safest, most efficient and yes, most profitable operation in the industry. It is my belief that the answer lies in a return to the basics, that as price points from increased fuel costs continue to put pressure on the industry, the successful player will be the one that can maximize safe, timely performance and minimize overhead expenses. We cannot allow ourselves to sacrifice our core values and ultimately become like "all the rest".
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