March 6, 2014 | Kendall Creighton Class Dismissed High-Flyers Pay Up Big To Avoid Economy-Class Masses Dismissive Treatment for Frequent-Flyers Tuesday, March 4, 2014 At top, American Airlines skycaps wait outside the AA Flagship lounge at LAX in 2013, and bottom, travelers waiting in line to board a flight at LaGuardia in 2013. AAs Flagship Check-in service, a VIP discreet and expedited check-in process offers personal access to agents for assistance with check-in and bag check, and a separate security line when flying through several large airports. (AP Photo/File) It may be high time for airlines to rename Coach as Steerage Class. It’s becoming 1890-1910 all over again, only we’re in the air instead of on the ocean. Several stories came out last week pointing to this trend, describing an increased separation of the airlines from their customers. The Associated Press describes the airlines’ newest perk – keeping first-class passengers a safe distance from Economy Class riffraff. Businessweek reported that Delta changed its frequent flyer program into a frequent dollar program, and the NYTimes says just forget about loyalty programs altogether. Slowly, passengers are finding themselves treated more and more as cargo. Human interaction, compassion and empathy have been eliminated from the equation of economy-class airline travel. Customer service has all but been eliminated. At the same time, airlines are foisting fees onto their customers that passengers instinctively know are unjustified. Issues that are addressed in our FlyersRights Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0. It’s the downgrading of the coach experience while the front of the plane is increasingly luxurious. Delta, American and United Airlines have all sprung for spacious, lie-flat bed seats for their business-class customers. Even JetBlue traditionally a budget carrier with a self-proclaimed egalitarian, culture, gave in to class division, announcing an upcoming premium cabin with business-class seats and suites. Flying in Singapore Suites Class Ticket prices reflect that growing disparity. Whereas domestic first-class seats used to cost around four times more than economy fares, now they’re as much as 10 times the price of an economy ticket, analysts say. As both ends of the spectrum become more extreme, it’s all but impossible to find the middle ground we remember from years ago. As the AP points out, if you are not a “good” customer, then you’re treated like a bad customer. Nowadays when you fly you feel like a piece of luggage. Except the luggage usually gets on before you do and has more room. Sardine class sandwiched together Airline economics are a classic example of how premium pricing works, charging a lot more for a relatively cheap/small improvement in service. In very rough terms, cattle class tickets pay for their share of the fuel bill, whereas the premium seats pay for their share of fuel plus everything else – the plane, the airport, back office and (hopefully) a profit margin. The marginal cost of providing a few glasses of champagne and some steak are trivial in comparison to the additional price of the ticket, even when you allow for the reduced seat density. The best way for airlines to squeeze extra bucks out of a flight is to cram in more tourist-class passengers. Naturally, the aircraft-seat manufacturers stand ready to oblige. Delta Switches To A Dollar-Based System For Its Frequent Flyer Program In case you missed it last week, Delta is essentially eliminating its frequent flyer program. A new Fortune article says Delta is completely changing its frequent flyer program. It will no longer be based on the distance you fly. Instead, you will earn miles based on how much you pay for your ticket. The customers in each category will receive rewards for every dollar spent, depending on their elite status. If you sign up for Delta SkyMiles, but don’t fly or spend enough to rate as elite, you’ll receive five times the dollars you spend in miles. That’s right, the rewards will still be expressed in miles. “It’s the currency accustomed to for many years,” says Jeff Robertson, vice president for SkyMiles. But the number of miles you receive will be based entirely on what you pay, not how far you fly. In other words, your virtual currency, frequent flyer miles, exists at the pleasure of Delta, who reserve the right to change the rules as they see fit. The legality of this is open to question, as Delta was selling 2014 calendar year flights for over six months now, based on false pretenses of elite qualification. Of course the Delta Mileage program is subject to change, but they DID make certain promises of future services. This all goes back to increased market power and the lack of choices for customers. Why pay for loyalty when there are so few other airlines? Northwest, Continental, US Airways, AirTran, America West all used to be there as options. As competition dwindles there is less need to “reward” anyone. The final outcome will be just two Greyhound bus type airlines serving their spheres of influence. Hey, Greyhound has free wifi and more legroom! As The NYTimes says, it’s time to burn your miles. Use them or lose them in the next few years. The airlines did not design this marketing promotion for you. American Drops Bereavement Fares Continuing the theme of declining service to the rank and file, American Airlines has just endedits policy of extending special fares to passengers who must book last-minute flights due to a death in the family. The Associated Press notes AA “didn’t have a specific discount for bereavement travel, but it had a different fare class that could produce a lower price than the traveler might otherwise find.” These discounts couldn’t possibly have affected AA’s bottom line by a significant amount. Meanwhile, the negative publicity generated by what appears to be a cold-hearted move is likely equally as measurable. Contact Your Representatives and Senators! FlyersRights needs you to contact your member of Congress to respond to our Passenger Bill of Rights survey! Call the US Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the office you request. To locate your Member on-line: U.S. House of Representatives: www.house.gov U.S. Senate: www.senate.gov Thank you! Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights FlyersRights depends on tax-deductible contributions from those who share our commitment to airline passenger rights. You will be sent the latest FlyersRights publications and newsletters. You aren’t merely supporting our mission, you become a part of FlyersRights. Thank you. or FlyersRights 4411 Bee Ridge Road Sarasota, FL 34233 We value your thoughts and opinions! Please send to Kendallc@FlyersRights.org, newsletter writer.