Sunday, 13 July 2008

Airline rip-offs

Peter Harvey (Lavengro in Spain) has posted an interesting item about the abuses in charges for additional items on flights - particularly luggage. Well you can read the item and Peter's translation of the salient points here.

You'll also see my comment there about Thomas Cook charging £10 for an upgrade from their reduced baggage allowance of 15 kilos, to 20 kilos (20 kilos being the standard baggage allowance on almost all airlines.) It seems they can get away with that, because, as the Spanish article says, there's still (50 years after the passing of the relevant law), no regulation that fixes a standard baggage allowance: this is up to the individual airlines.

So, legally, it's fine, if morally, they're screwing customers by lowering limits.

Thomas Cook also now impose a weight limit on hand luggage (first I'd seen) of 5 kilos. As that corresponded exactly to the weight of the smaller of the two cats (who don't weigh that much), I thought that was a bit mean too.

It's all in the details: had it not been for the creep of this ever greater number of small, mean rules (clearly desperate aims at making an extra buck), I might not be so easily perceiving that they might be lax in their care for pets also.

On top of that, of course, food is extra these days. Don't get me started on that! At least I've managed to forget how much they ripped me off for that, but whatever, it was way too much. I'd even taken the precaution of ordering the Asian-Vegan meal, thinking that a bit of interestingly spiced daal and rice (or it's oriental, equivalent) would be infinitely better than standard fayre or the wallpaper paste in tomato sauce that would be offered as vegetarian.

So, what did I get pretending to be an Asian-Vegan meal? Veggie wallpaper paste (pasta bows) in tomato sauce, to which some curry powder had been added, all stuck together in a microwave reheated, hardened mess. Gross does not cover it. Even the contents of my mother's freezer can marginally beat that! No genuine Asian would have eaten it that's for sure. Who would ...?

Expectations are never that high, but the quality of this was exceedingly low, even for airline food. Portion sizes are never large either, but this seemed reduced too: in all, it was just another example of the mean, cost cutting measures employed. As a meal I'd paid for, it was seriously bad, but if it had been included in the ticket, I'd have just shrugged my shoulders.

(Of course, my expectations of Asian-Vegan were shaped by the delicious meals my Bangladeshi next-door-neighbours' kids used to bring round!)

Interestingly though, as I looked around me, almost everyone had still opted to order the in-flight "you can live on it, but it tastes like shit" meal.

What I really don't get though is why these things are charged extra; food is extra, baggage is extra, oxygen will be extra soon. Hell, cheap airlines will be putting pay-as-you-go (pun intended) slot machines on the loo doors next!

Apparently, it's a very popular activity in the UK, but I shudder to imagine the alternative: wing walking to take a leak outside, maybe? :)

But, current airline policies just don't make business sense to me. Do they actually want to alienate customers? Are airlines run by sadomasochists?

Nah, best not to answer that last question: it may be rhetorical! :)

Anyway, why don't they just put everything within the ticket price? With things like food, they could offer a discount if people want to not order it (then the customer thinks they've had a favour done 'em), so I reckon - despite the higher prices - that way round would sell more and, more importantly, would create less friction, less bad PR and, in the end, lower costs on customer service, because people wouldn't already feel screwed and might overlook smaller problems, be less inclined to complain, cause staff less stress ...

Although, as Peter is discovering, the way the airlines avoid customer service costs, seems to be to avoid responding to customer complaints, period.

Related News: If the curried wallpaper paste meal wasn't a big enough insult to the the entire Asian culture already and if airport security wasn't already humiliating enough, what about the case of the Sikh man who was forced to remove his turban in full public view, by the Guardia Civil at Tenerife? Not enough, but he's eventually got an apology, as this article states?

And if we passengers in Europe find travel regulations utterly absurd, what about Quintessential TSA stupidity: taking airline cutlery away from a pilot

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