Poor Customer Service = Profit?

Travel blogger Christopher Elliott asks an excellent question: why is US Airways both the most profitable and the most complained-about network carrier in the United States?

He notes that US Airways comes in first in the recently released report on financial data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and first in the rate of passenger complaints in the most recent Air Travel Consumer Report.

Yikes. Could it be that cutting back hard on customer service is what makes an airline most profitable? And why should an airline care if we complain, as long as we keep paying the fares? (I’ve ranted a bit on this topic before.)

Unfortunately, it seems that treating customers like crap is one path to higher profits. But if you examine the financial reports you’ll see that Southwest is nearly as profitable as US Airways and it has the lowest rate of complaints against it. So maybe there is an alternative path to high profits, which does not involve quite so much mistreatment of passengers.

What we passengers must do, if we can possibly afford it, is to stop booking fares on airlines that treat us badly. It’s not easy to do. When I look at all the factors in choosing a flight – price, schedule, routing, leg room –  sometimes the best option looks like it’s on the worst airline.

Right now I’m looking at options to get the kid home from the West Coast for Christmas. The lowest fare would cause her to miss a day of classes, not really an option. The next lowest would route her through northern hubs at busy airports, not always a smart choice when you consider weather delays and holiday air traffic. When I look through the remaining options I see airlines with lousy records for on-time performance and/or customer service.

What to do? In this case, I’ll probably book to send her back a few days early or book for about $100 more than the rock bottom price. It goes against my cheapskate, budget inclincations. But there is a point where cheap is just too cheap. 


2 thoughts on “Poor Customer Service = Profit?

  1. Bag

    Just remember when you travel on Southwest and its so-called low fares(they are not always the lowest) you don’t expect much so most people won’t complain.

  2. Del

    All of the agony the flying public is now enduring is a direct result of airline deregulation come to fruition. Thank you Jimmy Carter and Alfred Kahn! NOT!
    Cheap farers are going to get you cheap service. Dougweiser Parker doesn’t care about you. All he cares about is getting a plane full of people from point A to point B. He gives lip service to improving service but don’t look for that any time soon, so long as he is making money for the stockholders, he doesn’t care.
    PAX and employees are the last thing Dougie thinks about.
    Just remember, pendulums swing both ways. Once more consolidation is finished, bye bye low fares.


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