Starting 01 February, 2012, American will re-introduce free beer and wine in economy class on their flights between the US and Asia, Europe, and select markets in South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay). Gary wonders if such a move is necessary. So do I.
First, let’s be realistic–no one is going to fly on American Airlines because they now offer free wine and beer (not even free cocktails…). As odd as it sounds to a frequent flyers like me, most consumers look for the cheapest price and book–what carrier is operating the flight is secondary and the small benefits that distinguish one airline from another are rarely enough to make the bulk of economy class flyers picky. So what was AA looking for?
No doubt, AA was looking to get some publicity out of this announcement. Judging by the media coverage, the plan worked. I even had a classmate who rarely travels mention it today. But there was something more.
I think British Airways and JAL are the culprits behind this decision. American is a joint-venture partner with these two carriers and a primary goal of JV-codeshare relationships is to harmonize products between carriers. British Airways and JAL offer free alcohol and I can only imagine were none too happy about the fact that they were booking passengers on AA flights without a similar benefit.
The benefit itself is not as big as managing expectations–passengers who have become accustomed to something complimentary may be surprised and angered when it is suddenly taken away or offered inconsistently. If they are anything like me, when they find one thing wrong, they start looking for other things to go wrong and it really dampens the flight experience.
My point is that airlines, particularly JV partners, are in a difficult situation where they must carefully balance cost with consistency. As American slogs through bankruptcy, it is trying to arrive at the right balance. Look for more enhancements–both positive and negative–in the months to come.