01 October 2008

Fliers Rights Still Getting Trampled – Bad Airline Habits.

I like to think I am a passionate believer and hopefully advocate for the triple headed monster of Aviation, Travel and Tourism markets.

I also eat my own dog food by being on the road about half the year. So I can attest to what its like really to use and be abused by the "system". Last year’s terrible service record particularly on airlines was directly related to the amount of traffic. The system found it hard to cope with 90%+ load factors and 80%+ occupancy levels. So this week was my first road trip after the big cut. Is the situation better or worse than it was? I travelled to 2 separate locations returning to my home on the West coast over a 4 day period this week to experience first hand what its like out there.

Firstly its quiet – very quiet. So my friends there will be more cuts coming. I have already written that some airlines have not cut back deeply enough for the reduction in flights and aircraft – particularly United. I predict that there will a further round of cuts beginning in November and taking effect after the turn of the year – if not sooner. Check out this picture of the screens at CVG. In normal times all 12 screens would be populated.

Next the airlines have resorted to some interesting behavior – it’s just a bad habit – let’s hope it doesn’t stay that way. I will highlight two of them.

Trend #1 – Telling Porky Pies. The growth of systems that now feed off automatic tracking and published data in real or near real time means that there is a greater pressure to “appear” to be doing the right thing. While I don’t think (at least I hope not) we will see repeats of such behavior as the 15 foot push back. We have seen that airlines are not updating their FIDS (Flight Information Display Systems) data as often as they need to. I have observed several airlines by tracking their website and airport display information vs the data displayed by independent sources such as the FAA. On several flights I have been on – I have observed the inbound flight coming in long after the departure time of the outgoing flight. Yet the airline still was pronouncing to the world that their flight was “On Time”. Thus the published information out there was still showing incorrectly for the world to believe that the airline was doing a great job.


Trend #2 – Leaving Early. This is a really nasty habit. Airlines have started to leave early. I have actually been on a flight that left 15 minutes early. Of course the airlines are not revising their plans accordingly. But an ON TIME arrival allows for a flight to arrive less than 15 minutes past the schedule. With most airports around the USA at 30 minutes MCT (minimum connecting time) for online connections – this makes a connection impossible. Yet the airline will not show any problem in the reporting of its data. Case in point. I arrived within a scheduled arrival time (13 minutes late) and the departing aircraft was 2 terminals away at CVG. I arrived at the gate having sprinted with my bags in less than 10 minutes. Only to see that they had closed the door and refused to board me. I was actually there before departure. I was told that it was my fault that I had not arrived at the gate at the right time. So if this happens to you – now you know why.

Moral of this story is that the airlines have found yet another stupid pet trick up their sleeves. I was told that it was my fault that I had not arrived at the gate at the right time.

I find it somewhat disingenuous of the head of the ATA James C Mays in telling everyone in an Op-Ed piece in today’s (Oct 1) USA Today that things are doing so much better. http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/10/flying-experien.html



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