Airline Service… and contracts

When you buy a ticket to fly, you actually are saddled with an adhesion contract for carriage.  You know it as your ticket.  It’s an adhesion contract because you can’t fly without accepting the terms – and the terms are non-negotiable.  And while you may have seen the brief version of them on the back of your ticket, I doubt you’ve read the full version, so here they are for a few of the most popular US airlines:

American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airlines

In my local newspaper, they had a story today about how airlines are becoming more stingy at passing out hotel vouchers in the event of an unexpected overnight stay.  The article basically indicates that the airlines are blaming the reduction in “service” on cost-cutting measures.  Now, let’s forget for a moment that US-based airlines are exactly where they asked to be (deregulated) and for the most part, are struggling hard to survive.  They have a stranglehold on air travel within the US (and many have a significant overseas presence as well).  And in their time of crisis, while many more consumers decrease their flights and fuel prices skyrocket, the majority of airlines choose to reduce or eliminate service.  Which is interesting, seeing that they’re a service-industry.

But while I could debate the service issue forever, I find myself focused on the contract… my one salvation in the event of a serious problem with my trip.  I’m not a million-miler, but I do fly several times a year.  The increase in fuel costs actually pushes me towards flying, as I can get wherever I’m going more cheaply.  But with the decrease in service, fewer airlines offer routes to where I go.  As a Disney fan, my #1 destination of choice is Orlando.

That means that I really have two ways to get there expediently.  Delta and Southwest.  If I choose Delta, I know that my return trip is ALWAYS going to be delayed (in the dozen or so times that I’ve done the trip, it’s always happened).  But on only one of those trips was there an overnight-level delay… and of course, Delta blamed it on weather so as to avoid liability.  So while I’ve gone through dozens of delays (hundreds, if you look across the entire span of my life)…  I can think of only two times where I’ve been compensated – and it wasn’t by Delta.

If this was any other industry… any other situation… I would’ve expected at least something in exchange for my inconvenience.  Because I hold the ticket/contract relationship sacred.  I pay, they fly.  And as I’ve said in other places, I don’t think that the airlines would think it ok if I delayed payment (they would simply delay giving me the ticket).  So this mutual respect doesn’t seem to flow in both directions.

Southwest is eventually going to win this competition simply by delivering quality service … without cutbacks.  Oh, and don’t even get me started on the “oversold flight” issue.


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