Letters – March, 29 2004

Letters – March, 29 2004

Low-Rent Wines in First Class Cabins
Just wondering … Is anybody else noticing that on American Airlines, in First Class, they are serving real cheap wine now? Yesterday, I flew First on MD-80’s from New York to Dallas/Fort Worth, then to Orange County. On both flights, both the red wine and white wine were virtually undrinkable.

The white tasted like all sugar; it couldn’t have been more than a $4 bottle. The red wine was a cheap, “small” bottle that just tasted horrible.

When I asked the flight attendant why the wines were so bad, she — only half-kiddingly — snapped back, “I think they’re more concerned right now about things like saving my job and staying out of bankruptcy.”

I strongly resented that comment. I had paid $1,000 (full coach fare) one way, to go New York to Orange County.

I felt like saying, “Don’t blame me,” because obviously if everybody on that plane was paying $1,000 one way, they’d be making money!

Also, American’s MD-80’s are junk-heaps … no video … and First-Class legroom and even “space” is a joke. If somebody puts their seat down in front of you, you can barely get your laptop on the tray.

Anyway, the cheap wine thing really bothers me. As we (both) know, for a lousy $15 a bottle wholesale, they could be buying some really nice wines. 15 bucks. Guess they don’t really even give a hoot about elite (which I am) / first-class passengers. I was insulted by the crap wine they were pouring on those planes.
Bob MacKay

United Giveth, United Taketh Away
(The following letter was sent to the United Airlines marketing department.)

I was surprised last year to be told I had qualified for “global services” status — something I had never even heard of. I was even more surprised, and frankly a bit shocked, to receive my 2004 Premier 1K notification and be told “Due to the change in your travel, we are unable to extend your United Global Services membership.” Exactly what “change” are you talking about? As far as I can tell, the only change in my travel last year, and the first part of this one, is an increase. I easily qualified for 1K status last year, without needing to avail myself of any of the gimmicks you offered to others. By the end of February, by my calculations, I will have flown nearly 18,000 miles on United, on over 15 flights, in just the first two months of this year — on pace yet again to comfortably exceed your 100,000 mile requirement for 1K status (and unlike last year, when I “qualified” for “global services” without taking any international trips, I am in the process of planning three international trips for later this year).

What is especially annoying is that I have for the last several years fully qualified for your 1K status, at a time when each year you have let a lot of travelers qualify for that status through gimmicks or with less than 100,000 miles. So you give me this extra “status” I had never asked for — and then proceed (with no changes whatsoever in my loyalty to United) to thoroughly piss me off by taking it away from me. Way to go! Good luck in holding onto your most loyal customers while trying to emerge from bankruptcy.
L. Gage

Bait and Switch?
I thought you might find the text of these e-mails regarding Continental’s program interesting.

(Dear OnePass),
Good afternoon. I would like to just take the time to express my extreme displeasure at the path Continental has chosen regarding redemption of Standard Reward tickets (25,000 miles per round trip).

I’ve been looking at your online award reservations for two upcoming trips I wish to take this year. My dates are very flexible, yet less than 5 percent of flights that I looked up had a standard reward available, even on flights months in advance with only 10 percent of the plane sold. When I called the OnePass Service Center, the representative could offer no information why or how the system worked regarding availability. All she could offer was that “(she didn’t) know when they release more seats.” She did do her best to find available seats on one of your code-share partners (Delta). She should be commended for this, although I would think it would be embarrassing for Continental to have to put their frequent flyers on other airlines.

I understand that the airline industry is extremely competitive with tight profit margins as I work in the aviation industry myself.

However, this is a classic bait-and-switch technique. You make a promise of something at a certain level, then make that something unavailable and your employees don’t know how to make it available. If this were a paid service, this would be criminal. Of course, you then make available the product but at a much higher cost (50,000 miles for an EasyPass reward).

I am also an American Airlines frequent flyer with about the same balance. I went on their Web site and was able to find available reward seats on nearly every flight which I had inquired about. I will certainly think twice about flying Continental when other airlines will reward me for my patronage with miles which are more “friendly.”

I look forward to hearing from you.
Steve Daugherty

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Dear Mr. Daugherty,
I can certainly understand your disappointment and frustration in trying to obtain reward seats at the lower level. As you are aware, space for rewards is capacity-controlled particularly on markets with high demand.

As a business customer you understand that the flights are evaluated to ensure that the right business decision is made ensuring an appropriate balance in revenue and reward space. Our Revenue Marketing Department has been very successful in finding this balance as reflected in the industry financial reports.

Because of the very tight margins as you mention it is important that we take advantage of maximizing this and therefore additional reward seats are held longer. Currently the majority of the seats become available within 30 days of departure. I realize that you feel deceived; however, I assure you that it is not our intent to do so. We are simply making the decisions to ensure that we will be here in the future unlike our competition. I have included your comments in our report to upper management for internal review and have noted your feelings regarding this issue.

I appreciate the opportunity you provide us of improving our services and remain at your service.
Sincerely,
Maria Rodriguez
Customer Care Manager

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(Dear OnePass),
Thank you for your response. I certainly understand the theory behind why you hold back lower-level reward seats. What I’m disputing, however, is your representations that your frequent flyer program makes these seats readily available. Obviously, they are not really available for flights which a customer would like to reserve months in advance. You say that more seats open up within 30 days of departure. I’m sure it’s not much of a coincidence that OnePass charges a fee for reward tickets booked on flights within two weeks. So, basically, a customer has a two-week window in the 30 to 14-days prior range in which to (hopefully) find a flight. Trying to plan a family vacation within a two-week only window is very difficult. If a customer is not successful, they basically are then stuck purchasing whatever fare is available in that two-week window — almost taking away any chance a customer has of catching a fare sale, as we all know that no sales are available on flights less than 2 weeks away.

So basically, Continental’s pitch is 25,000 miles can get you a free seat. However, the fine print says “The only way to get a free ticket at 25,000 miles is to wait less than 30 days before you want to leave, hope that a plane has enough open seats that Continental is willing to open these seats, then make sure you book before two weeks of your departure.” That’s quite a chore and a lot of wishful thinking.

Again, thank you for your consideration and I am happy you are moving my complaint along. I will also be forwarding it to the travel departments at the Kansas City Star, the New Jersey Star Ledger and any other travel-related publication that I believe would be interested.
Steve Daugherty

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Dear Mr. Daugherty,
I understand your frustration and can assure you that your additional comments have been forwarded to the Upper Management of our Loyalty Marketing group for review.
Sincerely,
Maria Rodriguez
Customer Care Manager

Exit-Row Politics
Over the past several years I have traveled on dozens of regional jets, 99 percent of them under Delta or Comair. Many, many times, I have sat in the exit row, because while comfort hardly applies to these sardine cans, it is just a bit less claustrophobic than most of the other seats in the same plane. I do not pretend to be a small man, and in many cases, especially on regional jets, I need a seatbelt extension. Sometimes it is a simple matter of comfort, but usually the belts are about 2 inches too short.

On Feb. 20, I boarded a flight with my wife in Louisville, requesting and receiving an extension as I boarded. As the attendant was doing his final count I was informed that because I had requested an extension I was no longer eligible to sit in the exit row. Based on past experience I was astounded, and when I protested was assured that this was one of the guidelines used in training.

Boarding for a return flight on the 24th I took my exit-row seat, but without requesting the extension during boarding. As the attendant completed the final account, I requested an extension. By this time she had passed me at least twice and seen nothing to comment on. However, as soon as I requested an extension I was told I would have to move. I again protested, but was told this time that the rule had been in effect for over four years.

I don’t know what else you would call this but profiling. In neither case did the attendant display any issue with my seating until I asked for the extension. On exiting the plane, I took a copy of the exit row seating restrictions. After all, restrictions around a seatbelt extension would seem to be a pretty specific item clearly listed. I was unsurprised to find no mention of such a restriction.

I found this whole experience insulting. If this has always been their policy then they have certainly not been either enforcing it or warning the flying public that other seating restrictions exist beyond those publicly listed. They know the circumference of their average seatbelt. Either publicly tell us how big we can be or drop this knee-jerk policy. I intend to carry a copy of the seating restrictions in future, and will challenge them if they try moving me again. As if Delta had not done enough to alienate their short-haul frequent flyers, now they need to stoop to this?
Jim Thornberry

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