Posts about airlines

Fly Silverjet, please

I was going to write a post after returning from my latest trip to London urging anyone who could afford to to fly Silverjet, the last remaining independent all-business airline (after the death of Eos and Maxjet) because I want this one to stay in business. Today, there was some bad news as Silverjet is having issues with getting cash out of its latest line of credit. They say they are still flying the usual schedule between New York-Newark, London-Luton, and Dubai. But clearly things are at risk. Damn. Damn. Damn.

I’m telling you: This is the way to fly. That was the conversation among passengers in the lounge going over and in the line for U.S. Customs coming back. It’s no nonsense: Arrive at the lounge, hand them your passport, sit down and have a drink, they bring you your boarding pass, you get on the jet, you have your own space, you can lie down and go to sleep, you arrive at an uncrowded airport in London — no Heathrow madness — and head easily into the city. The food is good, the service wonderful. Everything I hate about other airlines today, I love about Silverjet. (And I’m not getting a thing out of saying this; it’s a happy and frequent flier’s endorsement, pure and simple.)

BA is about to start its mostly business-class airline, OpenSkies, but it’s flying only from New York JFK to Paris CDG*, two nightmare airports, and it is maintaining three classes (business seats recline only 140 degrees). Drat. And Virgin is supposed to follow. But I’m afraid their prices will be high so they don’t cannibalize their regular services. Silverjet’s prices are reasonable considering the level of service.

I don’t fly Silverjet to get free wine. I fly so I can lie flat, take my Ambien, sleep through the night, arrive in London in the morning full of my dreaded vim, and get a day’s work in. It’s worth the money to me to save the lost day. And on the way back, I can plug in my laptop and get a good seven hours’ work done (with a little free wine).

If you have a chance and if it stays afloat, please fly Silverjet. You will thank me. And I will thank you.

: By the way, OpenSkies is trying to market itself virally with a blog, even, which I learned about in a comment here from someone who wondered whether they were following my advice. We’ll see.

* CORRECTION: OpenSkies will fly into Orly, not CDG. I’ve not flown into Orly but it has to be better than CDG. Also note that OpenSkies objects to my calling the highest of three classes on the plane first class; they call it business class. I’d say this is rather like fighting with Starbucks over small, medium, and large — a fight I obnoxiously continue to the death. But duly noted. (I’m sure they call it that so company accountants will not object to expense reports.)

If pigs could fly

Ed Cone tells a story of an airline’s exquisite stupidity. He shows a picture of the jammed seats behind his jammed row 11 and the empty seats ahead and says:

What’s going on? An industry that has forgotten about customer service.

Almost nobody opted to pay $30 bucks extra to sit in “economy plus,” which promises a few inches of extra legroom. When it became clear that the flight would be packed six across from row 11 back while row after row sat empty in the front, people asked if they could move up. The flight attendants said no, you have to pay for those seats. Not very customer-friendly or situationally aware, but comprehensible.

So a guy asks if he could pay on the spot. Nope. People were laughing at the United’s cluelessness, but it wasn’t very friendly laughter.

When the drink cart came by I bought myself $5 worth of stress relief and asked the flight attendant (politely) why she could sell me a drink but not a seat. She looked at me like I had two heads and said they are in no way set up to take reservations, you have to do that with a service representative.

I started to say I didn’t want a reservation, I wanted to hand her $30 and move up one freaking row, but it felt like I was on the phone with Bangalore and couldn’t get a supervisor, so I just shut up and drank.

To recap: They don’t know how to allocate their seating categories, they aren’t going to let people spread out across a half-empty plane as a courtesy, and they turn down the chance to upsell on the spot, even though they do commerce in the aisles all the time.

What a stupid industry.

They’re so stupid they think their business strategy is to imprison passengers. They’re so stupid they don’t know how to take passengers’ money. They’re so stupid they don’t realize — or apparently care — how stupid they are. Too bad the all-powerful internet couldn’t give us all wings.

Bad news for London fliers

Eos, the great all-business (all-first, actually) airline to London is shutting down after something snagged its $50 million in financing, forcing it into bankruptcy. This pretty much leaves Silverjet, which I fly every time to London (and which offered Eos paassengers tickets at the same price). I can only hope that with the reasonably priced all-business market to London pretty much to itself — even though Virgin and BA are going to bring in all-biz flights, they are sure to be much more expensive — this will help Silverjet. If I had to fly one of the big, old guys at their big, old prices, I think I’d become an American isolationist. Man, the airline industry is a mess and with the price of fuel doing what it’s doing and the credit crunch, it’s only going to get messier. Damn.

Fly FU Air

Over at Seeking Alpha, where they reposted my recent rant about airlines, there’s a classic example of industry insiders in denial bitching at me: How dare I expect decent, civilized service. Water? You want water? Sit down and shut up. This is exactly the same reaction I get from whining real estate agents every time I dare to question whether I get 6 percent’s worth of value for the service they don’t provide. Head, meet sand, insert. It’s going to be fun watching them self-destruct. Couldn’t happen to better industries. Except perhaps cable and other protected monopolies and oligopolies. Bye-bye now. Bye-bye.

Customer Omega for the airlines

If there ever was a tipping point for an industry, headed down, surely the airline industry has reached that unfortunate metaphor. They’re fucked and their passengers with them.

On NPR this morning, I heard an old lady in a wheelchair forced to come to the airport to change her canceled American tickets — she wasn’t allowed to do it online or on the phone, not even after she said she was disabled and her daughter had seven children and a newborn and couldn’t take her to the O’Hare’s hell.

She is Customer Omega, the last screwed consumer.

You simply can’t treat people this way and survive. We all hate the airlines. We hate the experience on the plane and in the airport. We should fear for our safety, given American’s shoddy (and, one wonders, fraudulent) maintenance work. (As the Times said this morning, at least the FAA is doing its job.) The airlines never see themselves as our advocates, friends, servers; no, they are our prison wardens and enemies as they fight down legislation that mandates they should give us the crudest amenities a prisoner would get: clean water, air, and a toilet. The economics of the industry as it is being run today are unsustainable. And apart from the all-business-class airlines I try to fly every time I can (Eos, Silverjet, and there are more coming), there is not one visible bit of innovation — not one attempt to get out of this mess — visible in the industry.

Here are a few of my earlier posts thinking about a different future for the airlines. See also Chris Anderson on a new, free business model. What would you do to bring this industry back from the cliff? I think the essence of their future is there: They have to explore new value by having a decent relationship with us, using that new value to improve the experience so they can have a decent relationship. Screwing your customers is the least sustainable business model.