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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Richard Connor: Airlines flying high but fliers can’t get a break

In an age when everything is supposed to be easier and faster, when technology promises to reduce stress, why did the airlines get left out of the equation?

Lines at the airport counters are longer than ever and there are still many airline employees who flaunt their power and all too often seem to take delight in being rude.

Why do they misbehave? Why do they ignore even the most basic requirements of customer service?

Because they can.

Airlines are arrogant monoliths and they report to no one, even though they are supposed to be regulated by the government.

If this column gets circulated among flight attendants, as happened one time when American Airlines employees were on strike, I’ll probably end up with hot coffee in my lap the next time I fly.

My column and accompanying photo had an X scrawled over them in some attendants’ lounge because I criticized their union.

My complaint is not about airport security and the time it often takes to run that maze. Steps have been taken to speed up the process, particularly for those who travel a lot, and the changes have been positive. And many of the airlines offer Wi-Fi on board, which is incredibly useful, especially for business travelers.

Access to the Internet has made travel much easier and more pleasant and modern – unless, of course, you fly on United Airlines, which does not have Wi-Fi. And this is the 21st Century?

There are other significant and positive actions locally by the airlines. First, when US Airways merged with American Airlines the new company decided to keep Fort Worth as its headquarters. Just recently it announced it will build a new headquarters complex in Fort Worth.

And it recently reported a third-quarter profit of $1.9 billion.

American Airlines Group Inc. is doing so well, in fact, it makes you wonder why the city of Forth Worth should fork over $21 million worth of tax incentives to help the company build that new facility. But I’ll come back to that.

My wrath at the moment is focused on two examples of lousy service and both, unfortunately, involve American.

I was traveling and shipping a dog back to Fort Worth. My connecting flight was late. Worrying about my dog making the connection and me missing it, I raced through several terminals.

When I arrived at the gate the door was closed but the plane was still at the gate. I explained my dilemma. While I was asking the gate attendant to see if my dog made it into cargo, four other passengers showed up.

All had experienced the same problem of a late arrival. Several were enraged and vocal because they could see the plane at the gate. I learned long ago that getting all worked up at the gate gets you nowhere. You are helpless.

Amid the angry shouting about the airline’s culpability for being late and then penalizing connecting passengers, the attendant made the most incredible statement.

“We check to see if you are going to miss the connection and if we discover you are, then we sell your seat to someone else.”

I was lucky. The woman was kind enough to verify that my dog was on board. I asked a friend to pick up the dog and it was a good thing I did. The airline told my friend they only keep a pet at baggage claim for 30 minutes and then take it somewhere else when not picked up.

How could I pick up the dog when I missed the flight because of the airline?

The airlines get bigger, richer, and impose more rules – rules that accommodate them, not the customer.

There is a business opportunity here. All one airline needs to do to beat the others is concentrate on customer service. While airline business soars these days, customer service nose dives.

Maybe the Fort Worth City Council can come up with some standards for improved customer service as a prerequisite for the tax breaks for American Airlines, or at least make a couple of speeches in favor of its citizens, the airline’s customers.

Instead, the city will probably fall all over itself acquiescing and praising the great airlines at DFW.

Richard Connor is chairman of the parent company of Fort Worth Business, DRC Media. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net.

Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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