Desperate Times for Desperate Measures in the Airline Industry

Desperate times call for desperate measures; that’s the phrase in the air within the Airline Industry today, especially so in Europe and North America. It seems that an enjoyable in flight experience has practically all but left our skies and what fragments remain of a quality service are slowly being eradicated by the global recession. We have reached an incredible situation whereby many of the flying consumers actually prefer to fly with a Budget airline whereby expectations and prices are perceived to lower; rather than rough it with some of the rude and service cutting national carrier giants out there. The real story is a little more complicated however and this article was designed to give you the traveller a little clarity and more direction.

Let’s start by asking “where are we?” Well the current status of the looming recession is starting to bite and Airlines are now busy analyzing or literally weighing up all the options to balance a loss of air traffic and a lower share price. Subsequently, apart from cutting routes and making them more efficient, Airlines are looking at a number of ways to streamline flight costs and create new innovative income streams to wring out some more cash from the existing in-flight passengers. This trend seems to be particularly true with the Budget carriers, however traditional scheduled airlines are dong much the same, although the approach is slightly different.

The first attack targets baggage. As travellers many of us thought it was unfair when airlines started charging for overweight baggage and then by moving the goalposts downwards by charging just to check-in luggage. At the time almost unanimously, airlines claimed rising fuel prices and the weight and fuel cost ratio as the necessary reason. However since fuel prices plummeted, there is little sign of a reduction in baggage costs and in fact some are adjusting ever upwards. In the case of Budget airlines, most major carriers charge for every single bag checked in, which can be executed online. For example Ryan Air (max 15kg per bag for 15 euro online check-in), Air Asia (around 15 euro for 20kg online check-in) and Easy Jet ( 9 euro for 20kg online check-in). Here Ryan Air are certainly the tightest with the cost and offer the worst value. Scheduled Airlines typically allow 20kg free of charge and then sting you for every 1kg over. Here UK airports tend to be the most aggressive in applying the rules with US, German and Northern European airports close behind. Despite all these additional charges for luggage handling in the face of lower fuel prices, what makes matters more concerning is that the trend of delaying luggage or even losing baggage is clearly skyrocketing. For example on average there are now claims amounting to 10,000 bags lost every day in the US alone. In 2006 more than 240,000 bags worldwide never found their owners. From May to July 2007, more than one million pieces of luggage were lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered by U.S. airlines according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The saga for London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 must have put the statistics up for 2008 also!

Most Budget airlines now add insurance to the cost of your flight automatically within the online booking process, which is most annoying and nasty a cheap trick. If you want to cancel the insurance you have to uncheck the appropriate box, which does not always feature in the viewable screen, hence sometimes one has to scroll. For those who are not Internet savvy or used to cheap tricks, its becoming easy to get caught out. I tried to book an Air Asia flight 15 times and found it literally impossible to uncheck the insurance box. I needed the flight so I had to pay. Claiming the money back from Air Asia is as complicated as getting tax back from a Red tape Government. 

Another income stream, which is less dark, although there is a misconception, is the Hotel Bookings available from Airline websites. They are all at it and the illusion created or justification given, is that if it’s a Budget Airline, the Hotel must be at a Budget cost too, right? Wrong, the reality is that Airlines manage Airplanes and not Hotels. Subsequently, they subcontract to leading Hotel Internet engines such as Expedia, Hotelopia and Travelocity. The airline then marks up the NET prices aggressively, so one usually end up paying more or at best pay the same. It’s hard to find an example of when the airline Hotel Booking area was cheaper than going to the Hotel Engine direct. After studying many of the Hotel Booking Engines, I suggest you try the below Hotel dedicated specialist for best results, as they feature the site in 21 languages, they contract over 60,000 Hotels worldwide with excellent market prices, quality information is provided, reviews displayed, conditions of cancellation and the ability to reserve by credit card but not actually pay until check-out is the norm, so your money stay with you.

BEST IN CLASS: Hotel Bookings

Other new income streams include Speed Boarding or fast tracking, which is a potentially useful service and despite the over-hype it matters to some travellers. Also In-flight sales are becoming more aggressive and besides the expected Duty Free Plug, Budget Airlines are selling Train / coach tickets, scratch cards, phone cards and all manner of gadgets. Its becoming a little heavy handed with constant announcements to push these add-on sale items with a revenue aggressive approach.

Now for the SHOCK; think about this. How would you feel if you were to be personally weighed at check-in? Controversial it may seem to some, but it could come sooner than we think if Airlines start charging people according to their body weight? The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance has already taken on airlines over discrimination against overweight people, in order to stop, what to many seems as a highly possible trend. The level of obesity in the US is now of major concern, but also in the UK, National Audit Office figures show one in five people are clinically obese. Vale of Glamorgan MP John Smith fought a campaign against cramped economy class conditions, following a series of deaths from deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which have been linked to long haul flights. 

Ryan Air takes the biscuit though as Michael O'Leary now threatens to charge people to use the toilet in flight. It is not a joke! It’s a matter of choice Mr. O’learly claims, however we need to explain to him that Human Beings were designed with a natural wastage systems, which we are all forced to use and depending upon people’s age or their digestive efficiency to react to what was consumed, the frequency of such natural waste is sometimes unpredictable!

There is more, Ryan Air also allows Mobile calls in flight as does Air France. If the announcements are not annoying enough, they will ensure your flight is torture by allowing the person sitting next to you to call someone or receive a call. Flying used to be a sanctuary for me, as it was one place where BlackBerry did not work and I was not even allowed to use it, so I rested.

So in summary what advice can we give you? In short, cross reference all your flight bookings as often the scheduled airline is cheaper all things considered. Use Budget Airlines for short easy flights, especially where you do not intend to carry much luggage. Be careful for automatic add-ons when booking online with a Budget Airline and always check that the price quoted includes Taxes. Remember that flying with a scheduled Airline within Europe or the US, is likely to feature a poor service and often the Carb-rich food served is simply not edible. Book Hotels from a dedicated Hotel Booking website and try this:  Hotel Bookings

We leave you on a high, by stating that the service level for airlines in the Middle East and Asia are generally still excellent by comparison; so if you want to experience a luxury flight service, you know where to go! This service is generally replicated in the Hotels too!

Enjoy your travels

Grant Holmes