Southwest Airlines Just Accused American, Delta and United of Deliberately Gouging Passengers in Difficulty

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

You wait for a passenger’s plans to change. You wait for them to alter their flight reservations.

And you charge them $200 — or, if they’re flying internationally, $500 — for a couple of clicks.

Most of the major airlines enjoy this sniggeringly insipid trick.

Somehow, Southwest has managed to survive without imposing fees in this way. On its airline, all you have to pay is the difference in cost between the two flights.

Its rivals, American for example, seem to treat it as core to their business. 

Indeed, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker says that if the government tried to regulate change fees, his airline would stop allowing passengers to change non-refundable fares.

His words on the subject bordered on the charming: 

That non-refundable ticket is of value to us. We knew that seat was going to be filled. It allowed us to do other things. We sold the rest of the airplane knowing that seat was going to be filled.

You should be prepared to pay more for seats nearer the front and, indeed, for seats just about anywhere but the middle. Unless the middle seat is nearer the front, that is.

His airline also delights in change fees.

Perhaps money types like Kirby should refrain from creative analogies. Even he now confesses his analogy wasn’t perfect.

You can give your concert tickets to someone else. You can sell them to someone else. Not so with airline tickets.

Kirby contends that it’s all about separating leisure travelers and the less price-conscious business types. 

So it’s nothing like a concert, then? 

McCartney asked Southwest’s EVP, Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson for his perspective on airlines who charge change fees.

His answer was rather human. He said they were “gouging someone in their moment of need.”

Many business do this, of course. Uber’s surge pricing, for example, was really no different.

What is different, though, is airlines trumpet their customer service. What sort of service is it to the customer to gouge them when they’re in difficulty?

I asked Southwest’s three biggest competitors to comment. United declined. Delta and American didn’t immediately respond.

It reminds me of the American attitude to healthcare. 

Aw, you’ve broken your leg? That’ll be $15,420

An imperfect analogy? I wonder.

Of course, the government has no intention of forcing the airline to do anything different. 

So airlines will continue to pose as the friendly skies, while being the sort of friend who reaches into your pocket the minute you need a little help.

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