Whining About Air Travel
In the early days of commercial aviation, to get people up in those “kites with engines,” it was de rigueur for all airlines to include many extra comforts in the price of the ticket—blankets, pillows, hot meals, free snacks, nonalcoholic drinks and loving service by good-looking, unmarried flight attendants. On long-distance flights, movies and stereo were added and a number of airlines sprung for individual in-flight foldout entertainment centers.
Today, with the price of oil at $100 a barrel (up from $25 just four years ago) and discount airlines pounding down the price of tickets, the game has changed. Eight percent of United’s business and first-class passengers are responsible for 36 percent of its passenger revenue. This means that those of us in the back of the plane have to “make do.”
We arrive at the same time as the high rollers in the front of the plane.
A Major PR Challenge
“You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” said Richard Nixon’s gatekeeper, H.R. Haldeman.
Charging for food and drink, eliminating pillows and blankets, forcing passengers to see to their own needs and comforts—this is the equivalent of putting the toothpaste back in the tube.
What the airlines have to do is change the flying public’s thinking—get travelers used to the idea of moving from a prix fixe deal to buying services à la carte.
In these columns, I have quoted many times my very first mentor, Evelyn Lawson, who said, “The secret of successful public relations is to let people in on what you are doing.”
That also means being honest—telling it like it is. If you fake it or lie, customers will resent you. It’s the cover-up that will get you, not the occasional screw-up.
Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer articulated how to do good PR with their classic song recorded by Bing Crosby:
You’ve Got to accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.