While it's fresh on my mind, I'll share my terrible customer experience on American Airlines. The plan was to fly from DFW to Zurich to Copenhagen, then hop on a train for 30 minutes to arrive in a small town in the south of Sweden. So we boarded the plane and sat in purgatory (the interminable time between boarding and take-off) for an hour until the pilot announced that the plane was officially out of service and they're trying to find us a new airplane. Knowing (along with most of the other passengers) that I wouldn't make my connecting flight, I was fortunate to get at the front of the line at the ticket desk to find out my options. The two gals working the ticket desk were 1) either new or incompetent, as they kept having to ask supervisors how to get things done on their computers, and 2) flat-out rude. One of them actually turned to the supervisor and audibly said, "Can I go work at another ticket counter? I just can't take it here anymore." (Excuse me? Isn't this your job?) No apologies to the passengers, nothing. We were treated like hassles to be endured, not valuable paying customers who had been greatly inconvenienced by their airline. Anyway, they finally got me on a flight to London/Gatwick, where I then spent almost 4 hours transferring over to Heathrow before continuing on to Copenhagen.
Is it any wonder that the airline industry is in the toilet and in need of a major overhaul? A recent commentary on MotleyFool shares another bad flying experience and says:
These businesses (major airlines) are largely failing for two reasons. One, their antiquated structure makes it exceedingly difficult to bring costs in line with revenues. Two, they provide a commodity product in a service industry, yet overall they offer an abhorrent level of service to their customers...
Is it really a surprise that US Airways is likely heading for its second bankruptcy filing, or that Delta (NYSE: DAL) is knocking on the default door as we speak? How about American (NYSE: AMR)? Are Northwest (Nasdaq: NWAC) and Continental (NYSE: CAL) looking good to you these days?
Certainly these companies have -- with your money -- helped to build the infrastructure that makes modern air travel possible. But it would take a complete rewrite in order to make these dinosaurs competitive with the JetBlues (Nasdaq: JBLU) and Southwests (NYSE: LUV) of today (not that I'd recommend those stocks either).
Personally, I believe a fundamental change is taking place in the airline industry as we speak. Further, this change will ultimately create a completely different view of what it means to travel by air in this country, and the major carriers simply won't be able to reinvent themselves in time.
When you're operating in a commodity industry, you've got two choices. Either create a new disruptive product or service that takes you out of commodity status, or differentiate on service. The major airlines are doing neither of these. MotleyFool author Matthew Emmert is right: the airline industry is going to get blown apart in the near future. JetBlue and Southwest have started the shakeup, but there's more ahead. Thank goodness. I don't think change could come fast enough for most of us travelers.