I have previously authored columns and blog entries criticizing the airline industry for its nosedive in customer services and accommodations. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). The includes the planned switch to “bench seating” where passengers are expected to start bringing their own cushions. Despite the rising criticism of airlines making record profits while continuing to strip away every comfort, there is a new report that Southwest is now turning its back on passengers. The airline and Airbus are going to stuff another seat into coach class with new A380 superjumbo carriers.
The Airbus A380 currently seats 10 passengers in an economy row with a 3-4-3 configuration. The new layout would add an extra seat to the middle row, squeezing people into a 3-5-3 configuration. While the seats are expected to remain in the same width of 18 inches, those seats are already too small and the move will pump up the number of passengers from 525 passengers to 544 passengers. Once critic posted this picture:
This is truly becoming absurd when you look at such pictures. What is clear is that the airlines have succeeded in changing the expectations of passengers where any comfort is extra as well as adding charges for basic elements of travel. I am in San Francisco this week and paid extra to get a couple inches more of legroom in coach so that my knees were not pressed against the seat in front of me and I could actually open my computer on an over five hour flight. I also sat through a United Airlines commercial on the flight that advertised how its credit card will save you money . . . by waiving the outrageous baggage charges that the airline has tacked on to your ticket. So, just to keep up, United imposes a huge baggage fee due to fuel costs. Yet, after fuel costs fell, they kept the charge and now use the threat of the charge to get you to use their credit card.
A recent report shows airlines plunging in passenger satisfaction and accommodations. However, it does not matter. There is clear coordination among the airlines in a rush to the bottom to reduce the expectations of passengers. Yet, while these companies get a host of legislative benefits and support, it remains a one way street. Industry lobbyists remain extremely powerful in Congress and have been adept at cutting off any serious effort to address the abusive treatment of passengers. I am not a fan of adding regulations but it would be good to see more aggressive investigation into coordination behavior and inflated price allegations.
Clearly, there will remain a growth in the cattle-car model of low-cost flying. However, there has to be more coverage and support for those airlines acting responsibly as we did recently on the difference in space and charges.