Letters – June, 27 2003

Letters – June, 27 2003

A Fare Question
I recently had a ticket on a cancelled US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Burlington, Vt., late on a Saturday evening. The flight was cancelled due to the fact that they could not get a full crew to fly it (despite being at a hub airport). I am not writing about my experience, but that of a woman that I overheard in front of me in the service line.

She had purchased a very expensive ticket well in advance, but not including the required Saturday night stay to get a much reduced fare. She did this as it was imperative that she arrive in Burlington for a Sunday morning event. She argued, to no avail, that she was entitled to a refund of the difference between the Saturday night stay discount fare and what she had paid. This cancellation was entirely the fault of the airline. Her argument makes a lot of sense to me. What does US Airways have to say?
Joel J Smiler, DVM

Brancatelli — Mad Genius?
Once again, Joe Brancatelli is the super-star of your mag. I appreciate a guy who is willing to give blame where that is due, and praise where that is due. A realistic understanding of the airlines is the first step toward improvement. And no matter how good they are, they — as we — can always improve, and should do so.

But… not even Joe is perfect. His suggestion to tax travel awards is looney tunes. How would you tax them? If, as he points out, the value of the same airline seat fluctuates wildly, how would you value an award ticket to tax it? More to the point, awards are only a rebate of part of what we have paid — a lowering of our cost, in effect — and not income. Therefore, as a rebate and not being income, travel awards should not be taxed.
Mark Terry

Don’t Cramp Our Style, American
Not sure if you’ve heard about American’s recent policy changes which have resulted in increased inconvenience to their top-tier flyers. Well, the top-tier flyers have heard about them, and they’re not happy.

American has recently decided to make two changes to its seat assignment policy: They’re holding fewer seats in reserve for frequent customers, and they’ve eliminated their policy of “blocking” an empty seat next to top-tier flyers — holding a seat empty until all the “non-blocked” seats, presumably those which aren’t next to top-tier customers, have been filled.

These moves are certainly good news for the general public, who will benefit by having more seats available at the time they book or check in. But frequent flyers — who often have little choice but to book flights at the last minute — will take a back seat (literally!) to casual fliers who have the luxury of booking their tickets well in advance.

The empty-seat-blocking issue may seem even more trivial to those who don’t fly too often, but for top-tier flyers, the assurance that the airline will do everything it can to keep a seat next to them empty is a long-cherished (and, for the airline, a zero-cost) privilege.

Extra space is a highly desirable asset — customers are still exclaiming about American’s “more room in coach” program, just as they’ll likely be very disappointed now that American has announced that they’re restoring their traditional, pre-“more-room” seat pitch on some flights — and top-tier flyers have come to expect some preferential treatment when the flight starts to fill up and the airline has to start picking which aisle- and window-seat occupants to inconvenience by assigning newly arrived passengers to heretofore empty adjacent middle seats.

The net result of these new policies is that top-tier flyers are pretty angry, at least according to an American Executive-Platinum desk staffer I just spoke to.

American must really be in deep trouble if it’s willing to thumb its nose at its most loyal customers in such a flagrant way.
Hal Moss

The Shame Game
Ok, either I have gone crazy or the truth is British Airways has gone out of their minds with their new mileage requirements for premium cabin travel!

I keep staring at their web pages to see if I understand correctly what they have done and how it all works. The funniest part is they keep saying how easy everything will be. I still can’t figure out if I am reading everything correctly!

Plus, on the downloaded handbook they offer, it says to look for partner award levels and they are nowhere to be found.

Am I crazy or is this truly happening? I noticed two responses to the article saying what I am asking now and I just need to hear from someone high up that what we have read is either true or completely wrong.

Please say it is wrong because I cannot imagine EVER being able to fly BA for free again at their new levels!

And why is it you failed to mention such a horrid change to an airline program? I mean I have never seen or heard anything like it before! The cost of a First Class ticket from the USA to Asia is now three times the current amount. Aren’t you as shocked as we are? If so, why is it that was not at the top of your article? It seems like they AND YOU make it seem like such a small deal but that is NOT The case.

Shame on them and shame on YOU!
Henry Osserman

A Stern Warning for United
I can’t believe the mentality of United Airlines! You have figured out a way to alienate 1Ks- let international business class seats go out empty with 1Ks in the back. Now that is a formula for angering 1Ks. Let me repeat: BUSINESS CLASS SEATS GOING OUT EMPTY WITH 1KS IN THE BACK! How stupid can you get? The least you could do is let 1Ks upgrade on a standby basis at the airport (even at the gate), and prioritize them according to fare. Let your higher fares have the upgrades first.

But maybe that doesn’t seem to fit your present “business model.” And all of this is at a time when you have been losing 1Ks right, left and center. The last thing you would want to do is give them the impression that you don’t appreciate them.

All I get in response from agents is crass comments like “We’re running a business.” When pressed, they usually agree with me that the policy isn’t right, or at least that it shouldn’t be that way. You certainly are running a business, and I would think that this is not the way to do it! The incremental cost of upgrading your best customers when there are empty seats (even if it is at the gate) to my mind would be offset by a huge margin in the good will it would generate. And, on the other hand, the negative reaction in my mind and to the minds of other 1Ks to empty business class seats while they have to sit in coach on such a long journey is not merely “incremental.” It is devastating, and sends the wrong message to them. It is so bad and makes me so angry, that I can hardly stomach getting on another United plane any where. Smart thinking would make sure that you don’t have any empty seats in business class so long as there are 1Ks willing to provide the support for the upgrade. After all, they are the only ones with those system-wide certs (revised this year). Just having a standby upgrade policy (as opposed to an advance confirmation) would resolve the offense and the pain even if 1Ks don’t get upgraded at the gate (if business class is full). At least it would show that United is interested in them.

I can understand the need to be more “fare sensitive” in this upgrade thing, but you have gone too far. What it means is that if I am going on an international holiday or vacation and my company isn’t paying the tab, and I can use a lower fare, I can’t even upgrade it. That is the time that I need it most, and United isn’t going to be there for me! Isn’t that also the time you want to impress your 1Ks the most? Why in the whole wide world where United flies would you want to leave the kind of impression in their minds that you are so stingy and grudging that you wouldn’t even upgrade your best customers even when there are empty seats? Amazing! And at a time when you need their support and revenue the most.

There are plenty other carriers out there that are hungry for business. I am the equivalent of 1K on one other airline. I would recommend you rethink your issue here, and communicate to your 1Ks that you have a way for them to upgrade on lower fares on international itineraries when there are empty seats at least on standby at the gate if you can’t do it at 100 hours, or even 24 hours. There may be another way as well that is better for you, but whatever you do, CHANGE the policy that leaves BUSINESS SEATS EMPTY AND 1KS IN THE BACK! It would be greatly appreciated.
Hal Mayer

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