If an airline CEO were your seatmate, he'd give you an earful

George Hobica, September 14, 2010
Fares from Washington DC:
    Recently I "interviewed" Wilbur Flywright, CEO of BrokenWings Airways. Mr. Flywright, a veteran of the U.S. airline industry, has been taking me to task lately for "coming down too hard" on the airlines in some of my columns. In our interview, I asked him how he would explain some of BrokenWing's more unpopular policies to a customer, should he find himself sitting next to one on a future flight. Here's what he told me he'd say:

    "OK. Let's get real here. Just in case you were in a coma for the last 25 years, airlines have done nothing but lose money. In fact, since its beginnings the U.S. airline industry hasn't made a dime. Quite the contrary, it has lost billions upon billions. And why? Because of you.

    "That's because whenever we raise fares to a level that allows us to make a profit, you stay home. Or you take the damned BoltBus. Or you drive to grandma's house (did you miss the memo that driving is 100 times more dangerous than flying?).

    "Please. Airfares, since the 1978 deregulation legislation that nearly killed our airline, are a freaking bargain. Over the past umpteen decades, whenever we sold you a ticket, on average we lost money on the deal. Exactly what would you have us do? All of us go out of business? Yeah, well have fun taking BoltBus to Paris.

    "So what did we do? We eliminated service. We cut salaries and benefits. No more little plastic wings for the kiddies; if you remember those, then you remember that the cheapest roundtrip coach fare from New York to Los Angeles in 1959 was $231, or about $1,800 in today's dollars. And if you remember that, then could you please shut up about the fees?

    "Ah, the fees. Can we agree on just one thing? If your neighbor moves, you aren't going to pay for it, right? No, of course not. Not unless you really wanted him gone. So why should you pay for the jet fuel consumed by some moron who's flying a 100-pound steamer trunk across the country in our baggage compartment?

    "Because that's what you've been doing all these years. You've been paying for all those folks who think they need 20 pairs of shoes when they fly to Vegas for the weekend. You paid when Fluffy got out of his cage and bit the guy in 23C (but trust me, your in-cabin pet fees didn't cover the six-figure settlement, let alone the legal bill). And you've been paying for the lady who spends an hour tying up one of our phone reservationists looking for the cheapest fare to Boise, and then buys the ticket on Expedia.

    "And please don't call these fees 'hidden.' They're all spelled out in black-and-white on our website, under 'fees'. You just have to read, all right?

    "So that's all history now. Let the people who use the services pay for the services. Don't want to play? Fine. You don't have to. No one's forcing you to book the rows with extra legroom. Take the seat we assign you. Don't check bags. Don't change your travel plans and expect a free pass (the Yankees don't let you switch game dates if you change your mind, so why should you hold us to a higher standard?). And don't pay the lousy $6 to watch our inflight satellite system with 24 channels of live TV. So what if we paid a small fortune to install it.

    "Read Wing and a Prayer, our entertaining in flight magazine, instead. It's located in the seat back pocket in front of you.

    "It's free. For now."