Following up on your recent article about airlines selling the same seat twice, I had the privilege of seeing an airline passenger score a rare victory.
Flying out of Philadelphia on US Airways several years ago, an issue arose with a female passenger who was occupying two seats on the flight. She had bought non-refundable tickets for herself and her son, but her son was unable to make the flight. It was her contention that since she had bought tickets for the seats she had the right to occupy them both. The airline argued that, since tickets are not transferable, she had no right to occupy her son’s seat and that they could re-sell the unoccupied seat. The woman argued loudly that she would release the seat ONLY if they refunded the ticket price…that the airline did not have the right to sell the same seat twice.
While our plane full of passengers intently listened and watched, airline personnel proclaimed that the woman was delaying the flight threatened to have her forcibly removed from the plane. She loudly stood her ground, said it was the airline’s greed that was delaying the flight and refused to budge. Perhaps, after considering the possible litigation and public relations disaster of having security personnel drag the woman off the plane, US Airways finally relented and agreed to refund the cost of her unused ticket. Once they did, the entire planeload of passengers cheered! None of us sided with US Airways on that issue even though we were being delayed during the arguments.
You make an important point in your latest newsletter. Once the seat for a particular flight has been bought and paid for (and considering the Airline practices of overbooking, change charges, etc.), an interesting legal, and non-regulatory, way to improve that would be to seek a legal determination that the airline is bound to make that seat YOURS, once sold, whether you use it or not; unless a full refund is made before the flight, at your request. Keep this up, you guys do great work!
As a pilot, I have said before, airlines have no incentive to change current policy. It would take, and I say this without reserve, an act of Congress to change the current rules and policies being adhered to by the major airlines. If you have never worked for an airline company then you really have no idea of the cost involved in operating a major carrier.
The first thing I often here [sic] from passengers concerning prices for carriage is the recent fall of fuel prices. This is of course a major expense for all airlines but this is also a small percentage of the total cost of what airline fees pay for. When you look at a carrier like Delta, for example, most people do not realize that Delta employs more than 80,000 individuals. For every Delta employ you see or come in contact with, such as pilots, counter personnel and cabin crew, there are five more employees behind each and everyone of those employees you come in contact with. This means, for the average flight, you have two pilots, three cabin crew and three gate personnel. That’s eight people multiplied by five, giving you a total of forty Delta personnel to service the average domestic flight.
I think the flying public fails to understand the complexity and expense of putting an airliner in flight. And, I think flyersrights.com simply puts a very harsh spin on airline companies and makes every attempt to make them look like greedy, self serving capitalist. I can tell you this is not true. Airlines are only offering what flyers want. Cheap, cheap tickets! But you insist that the airlines are scrooges and are out to cheat the flying public of every nickel they squeeze from them. The fact remains, people who fly regularly, and even those who fly rarely, look for the cheapest fare they can find, and most go directly to the internet to search for said air fare. Whole industries have sprang up just to help people search for that cheap ticket!
We still smile when we greet passengers and we also want every passenger to enjoy their flight. We do this because we like our jobs and we want to keep them. We want to keep them and to do this we realize we need to keep our customer base. But this is more important to airline employees than it is to your average flyer because we know that nearly seventy percent of the passengers on our flight are there because we had the lowest seat cost for their travel dates, the seat they found on the internet. Airlines keep a very close watch on these numbers and adjust flights and cost as is necessary to fill all seats on every scheduled flight. This is just good business. And since all airlines are in business to remain profitable, just the same as any other large company, they use every means at their disposal to fill every seat.
Sure, flying has changed dramatically over the last two decades, but the number of people flying has tripled in those two decades and that growth is not going change. There will be even more people flying in the next two decades and I’m sure that the airline industry will continue to expand and change as time progresses.
The major two airliner manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, have no shortage of orders for new equipment. They both have orders for new planes that will take them into the next decade. Seat configurations will remain the same, with additional seat space being an upgrade and the best seats and service will go to those who pay for first class seating. So, again I say, you might as well get used to it because we are a capitalist society and airlines are private businesses that are free to set fees for air fares as they see fit. And, again, as long as they are filling seats and show no evidence of endangering passengers, the government will leave them alone.