NY Times technology columnist Farhad Majoo argues that technology has failed to improve your airline experience.
Yet the airline industry has not just stubbornly resisted innovation to improve customer service — in many ways, technology has only fueled the industry’s race to the bottom.
As evidence, he points to United3411:
Everything about United Flight 3411 — overselling, underpaying for seats when they are oversold, a cultish refusal to offer immediate contrition, an overall attitude that brutish capitalism is the best that nonelite customers can expect from this fallen world — is baked into the airline industry’s business model. And that business model has been accelerated by tech.
He adds that airfare search engines sort based upon price, machines are replacing the personal touch of workers, and any useful metric of “dignity” is lacking.
Airline industry analyst Henry H. Harteveldt weighs in, stating, “The airline industry has been on a steady downward trajectory when it comes to customer service for nearly 40 years”
We sparred on NPR and he is wrong again here. Customer service is hardly on a steady downward trajectory. Rather, we see cases of strong and positive leadership and cases of poor leadership. Why are Southwest, Alaska, and Delta so highly regarded in the customer service department? Because they provide excellent customer service that has improved. More importantly, though, customer service must be thought of as more than just being courteous.
Harteveldt (correctly) admits it that consumers care primarily about price and airlines have responded accordingly. Yet that doesn’t concede that some carriers are still able to provide far better customer service than others. It also doesn’t concede the many areas in which customer service has improved even as price has been a primary motivator in courting customers.
So no hope?
Majoo speculates about the possibility of membership-based airline fees, sort of like the way Netflix transformed the DVD rental market. I cannot see a viable membership-based business model, though.
He arrives at this final conclusion–
Your only technological hope for better service is your smartphone camera and the viral push of social networks. If you are violently kicked off your flight, at least your fellow passengers will post a video to Facebook.
That’s just not correct. While viral incidents do bring about changes in customer service, the best push remains competition. Bucking the “race to the bottom” mantra, we’ve seen carriers improve the in-flight experience, not downgrade it. Wireless internet, streaming movies and videos, power outlets at every seat, and edible airline food mean much more to me than a plusher seat or an extra inch or two of legroom. I’d imagine I am not the only one.
My United mobile app allows me to search and book flights, upgrade, change seat assignments, and rebook myself during irregular operations. I can do this from anywhere in the world. That’s surely made my airline experience better.
The premise of this article is simply wrong. Customer service is improving in the areas in which customers care. I sure wouldn’t trade all that I have gained in the last 10 years of flying for more legroom and a free checked bag…