What Should the Airlines Do?
June 7th, 2010

If you’ve traveled, even a tiny bit, in the last few years, you’re probably fed up with air travel. Flight prices have escalated by hundreds of dollars.  You can’t eat, stay warm with a blanket or check your luggage without paying for it, and it seems you have to take off half your clothing to just make it through the security gates.

To be honest, I think it’s all of the little things, even more than the price increase, that are really frustrating everyone. I think, I hope, most people understand a down economy and the need to keep a business, even if you’re a major airline, afloat. I personally don’t want them skimping on breaks or engine parts to save a few bucks, so I’ll pay a little extra per flight. What I do mind, though, is that when I pay that extra money, it doesn’t include a snack, even a bottle of water, a blanket and pillow, my luggage or in some cases, even my seat – I have to pay extra to make sure I’m sitting with my travel companions. That is frustrating.

That being said, my question is: what should the airlines do? Price isn’t the only reason people aren’t flying, so lowering the price with the hope of getting more travelers may not help. In the past five years or so, we’ve had to deal with everything from a Tsunami that wiped out part of southeast Asia, to volcanic ash spreading from Iceland to Morocco, to the swine flu epidemic, to a man on board a flight with a bomb in his underwear. People are nervous to travel. They don’t want to take the chance of getting the swine flu or an act of terror (define that as you will) or volcanic ash shutting down their plane engines. They’re also dealing with job loss and may not be able to afford hotels on a vacation even if the flights were free. While I’m not supporting the airlines nickel-and-diming everyone (I am not and it certainly doesn’t help my job as a travel planner that they are!), I really wouldn’t have a better solution to offer. Sometimes, you can look at a situation in the news and think the answer is so obvious. This, it seems, is not one of them.

To me, it’s a three-part fix, only one of which we individually have much control over. First, people need to have jobs (at least most people) in order to take vacations. Until people feel a little secure in their finances, they’re probably not going to spend what they have on travel. Second – and this is the part I hope I as a travel professional can influence – people need to get excited about travel again. All the negative press in the industry lately tends to block out the magical memories of traveling and people figure it’s not worth the hassle.  I’ve heard that exact phrase many, many times. Finally, they need an incentive to travel. It bursts their bubble when they do finally get all excited about their trip and then realize the airfare alone will be over $3500 for two people. This, is where airlines come in. The difficulty they face is that people don’t look at the flight as the highlight of their trip. They’re willing to still pay a lot for the hotel with all of the amenities where they feel like a king or queen. They’re willing to pay extra for an authentic (insert the name of the cuisine) meal to feel that they’re experiencing the culture. But they look at air travel as a way to get there and simply aren’t willing to pay extra for what they consider transportation (this may not prove true on luxury airlines and charter, but I’m looking at your average traveler).

So I’m curious – what do you think the airlines should do? When fuel prices and landing fees are high and travelers already don’t want to fly, how can the airlines turn things around without going out of business?

It’s not an easy task. For the travelers part, I suggest this – get out your travel photos, read some blogs about destinations you’ve wanted to visit, talk to your friends about their most recent trips, start making your travel wish list again. If you are concerned about a potential road block (not literally, although possibly in some cases), talk to your travel planner. If you don’t have one, get one! Trust me, it’s our job to make sure you have a happy, safe trip, and we’re not going to tell you it’s OK to travel to the middle of a war zone just to make a sale – clients caught in cross-fire do not make for repeat business! For travel professionals, get out there and share your passion for travel. Blog your travels, post your photos, host a travel night where people share their stories and pictures, coordinate with others to have a joint travel event. Do what you can to truly show people what it means to travel.

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