Do airlines want your business?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Norwegian – one airline providing true competition across the Atlantic

More and more I am getting the feeling that some airlines would rather I took my business elsewhere. I am not talking about the Ryanair’s, easyJet’s, Wizz’s, Wow Air’s or Norwegian’s of this world but airlines like  British Airways, Delta, United, American Airlines, Lufthansa and Air France.

The old traditional (or legacy as they are known in the trade) airlines seem intent on improving things for the premium paying passengers but not for those in economy. I get press releases regularly about benefits for business  and first class passengers such as high-tech fully flat seats, more ergonomically designed seats, privacy areas and food that tastes like food. I get little that shows improvements for economy class travellers. Indeed releases seem to show the opposite as they talk about reducing the amount of hand luggage or cabin redesigns meaning that airlines are cramming more seats into rows, charging for as much as they can as an extra on top of the fares and generally making flying more of a pain in the proverbials than ever before.

Those of us who look for the best deal and never darken out of economy seats are the ones that are losing out. Economy passengers (sometimes referred to by the airline industry as “deep economy” which suggests we are at the very bottom of the heap when it comes to being treated fairly) make up two-thirds of passengers on traditional airlines but contribute far less to the profitability. Without us airlines would fail yet they don’t seem to realise how important we are. They think they can remove as many previously accepted rights without passengers objecting.

Until low-cost airlines came along, airlines tempted us with all sorts of offers. Low cost airlines broke the mould and airlines like Go and Buzz were swallowed up by British Airways and KLM respectively as traditional airlines sought to compete – and largely failed all those years ago. The low cost airlines taught others about a new business model where the ticket price was the minimum and everything else carried an add-on fee. For a while, traditional airlines didn’t follow and I remained loyal to BA and KLM, American and Lufthansa  because I knew what I was paying for and there no additional surprises. Then the change began.

WOW Air linking Bristol, Gatwick and Edinburgh with Chicago and another rival to traditional airlines

This year United, American and Delta have started to reduce their offerings to passengers, BA has altered the boarding of passengers so that those in “deep economy” board last and, so, followed many other traditional airlines. That this means that the vast majority of passengers board at once doesn’t seem to have occurred to them. It means the rush to find overhead locker space will get worse, there will be more movement in the cabin and some will have to climb over aisle passengers to reach the hated middle seats.

Some passengers have claimed that the BA move is class ridden, others that it rewards the wealthy but this is just a clump of soundbites. What it – and it seems other airlines are doing – are driving us away from using them. They will claim that they are trying to get us to pay more and to move up to what some airlines call “premium economy.” That means that you get the service that was available twenty years ago but at a much higher price than ordinary economy.

But will passengers pay more for what they were used to getting? The answer would probably have been a yes if you had posed the question fifteen years ago. But not now. In Europe and in south east Asia, low-cost airlines can provide a better service and a better product for the total flying price once you have calculated it.

Will British Airways suffer as passengers move to low cost carriers across the Atlantic?

Across the Atlantic there have been no such rivals since Freddy Laker’s Skytrain closed. And then Norwegian and Wow Air came along. Now you can buy low cost fares to popular places like New York, Toronto, Boston, Chicago, Orlando and Los Angeles so why should I use traditional airlines with a service quality and a pricing that is no better than and sometimes worse that I can buy elsewhere.

Budget travellers are not just penny-pinching, hard-up people. They are also those who have a “feel” for what something costs. It is in their psyche and they will be reluctant to pay more than they think the product is worth. Norwegian and Wow Air allow them to adjust in their minds what they think an Atlantic flight is worth.

Traditional airlines were slow to come to grips with low cost airline business models and suffered as a result. Now they are mis-judging the next phase in low cost airline growth –the Atlantic. It is like me buying a Ford Focus or a Vauxhall Astra. They are acceptable but why should I when a Dacia, Kia or Hyundai will cost me a lot less and deliver the same –and here I use a despised word – experience?

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