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Most of you know that I am somewhat of a travel snob. I like to think of it more of a safety issue. Not that being in first class is actually “safer” in terms of air disaster, but that I travel frequently and have a very low tolerance for casual travelers. (Ok, yes, and a very low tolerance for a lot of things in life.) So, for the safety of those around me, I always book a first class ticket. I adore the comfort of a bigger chair. I even go as far as trying to get the first row of seats to allow extra leg room (even though I’m under 5 feet tall.) I like boarding the plane early and getting my stuff ready for what is surely a long stint of uninterrupted work – no phones, no text, no email – just real work like public relations plans, social media content and strategy, and the stuff that seems to pile up in the inbox of my daily 300+ emails that I have to personally answer.
Now, for years now, I have been a huge fan and zealot of Continental Airlines. I fly them EVERY time – except two occasions: a quick trip to Vegas where I’d have to fly via Houston, or over the water because everyone knows that domestic overseas travel even in first class just doesn’t compare to the luxury of an international carrier heading outside of the country. I tell my staff to fly Continental or one of their partners (their SkyTeam Alliance allows for travel and mileage accrual on great partners like Delta and Northwest) and that the beauty of travel is being loyal to one airline so that as they travel and collect miles, then one day soon they too will be up in the front of the plane. Part of the reason I selected Continental was due to direct flights to NYC where I also have an office. The other was the Skyteam Alliance with Malaysian Air who has the most amazing first class experience to China where we also have work. The other is also that for my team or friends that may travel with me, Continental has managed to still serve food (yes, on every flight and even in the back of the plane,) waited the longest to charge for any bags (and are still a bit lower priced on that fee and in first class waive that charge,) and seem to have logical flight patterns, pricing, and amazing customer service. So, for years now, I’ve been a loyal Continental First Class traveler and for the non-first class traveler could boil the logical choice to be the same due to the nice meal and free drinks alone.
However; this past week I traveled in first class on US Airways and realized that first class among domestic carriers, much like first class on international carriers versus domestic is NOT the same at all. It seems that the $1000+ tickets for first class on US Airways has been just as diluted as coach tickets. US Airways didn’t feed the first class passengers on 3 hour flights (you ALWAYS get fed on Continental – first class AND coach.) They served us in plastic cups. The flight attendants were grumpy (ok, so that’s also almost always the case on American Airlines as well.) Their first class cabin isn’t assigned an attendant for the flight. Instead, they all go to the back of the plane, so once you’ve been handed a basket of chips to choose from (a la Southwest Airlines – which is cool because um, you’re paying like $5 for a plane ticket so you expect nothing) they just scoot to the back of the plane never to be heard from until preparation for landing. The men had to ask to have their jackets taken for them, and most of the baggage space was taken by both attendants luggage and coach passengers (which is usually stopped by attendants on other airlines.) The overall experience was just remarkably different and a bit frustrating.
And yes, I can hear everyone thinking “what a snob” – but the point is that when purchasing a ticket in first class which is usually 80% more than coach, there are going to be certain things that you as the buyer expect…and it’s not just a bigger seat and free cheap wine. It lead me to think deeper about business and cutting costs and while I somewhat see that airlines need to do some cutbacks to help offset an increase in fuel costs and taxes (don’t get me started on how really that is just an easy excuse to move our attention away from just a poorly run business and the like – but hey, most consumers are buying the story and not digging deeper) I don’t think that the same cutbacks should apply to the passengers that feed the potential profit for the whole plane. (It is assumed that first class tickets are 3 times profit of coach tickets – see more here) and that the first class seats before flight schedules were cut and there were too many free upgrades allowed, used to finance most of any flight.
So, how would that lessening of service to your first class clients look or play out? What would happen if you or me as a business owner decided that we had to cut costs/services in order to save money and relegated those changes across the board? Would we really ever as an agency stop delivering first class perks to our biggest clients who have retainers that are 80% higher than our start up clients? Now, don’t get me wrong – we have never believed that a client should get less service, a substandard product, or go to a newbie account executive (which we have none) because they have smaller retainers. But certainly, the clients paying say $2,000/month versus $30,000 month probably don’t get as many extra perks such as really expensive dinners and show tickets in Manhattan (our $2K clients get a great dinner and an off broadway show, let’s say) and that’s only because you’d end up perking more than you are getting paid. But if you equate this to the airline – my first class ticket has remained the same cost (as have the coach tickets) yet the service, it seems, on some airlines, has basically gone away completely for everyone. If we or any of our competitors in the social media or public relations space completely cut out the perks or the benefits of having us work with them, then why come to us in the first place? Interesting thought, I think…
My assumption is that first class travelers will eventually find a way to drive down costs through increasing need of private jet leases and sharing of such. I took a ride with someone who had a Flexjet contract and it cost me $500 more than the first class ticket would have – however; I also gained 2+ hours of my time back. To me, that wasn’t much of an increase – and really, some would say it evened out in cost/benefit analysis.
And, if I owned the airlines – my answer would be simple: raise the prices. Period. When I was a kid, flying was a luxury – and ALL tickets, even in coach, cost well over $1,000. (And, BTW, for my young readers, you NEVER traveled in your PJs carrying a pillow – you dressed proper for your flight..) So, if the airlines have to find a way to be profitable I’d say one, address your business model and do a complete analysis of everything from the top down – because quite frankly fuel can’t be the ONLY reason you are having problems. And second, raise the prices overall. It doesn’t have to be much – say 20% across the board. People, especially in first class HATE to be “nickel and dimed.” Don’t charge the coach passengers $5 for water and a $3 for a cookie – raise the price of the ticket by $10 and call it a day!
And let the competition begin. Fly Continental whenever you can. They seem to be doing a LOT right – especially in first class. It’s NOT all the same. Be discriminative…especially with luxury items.
What do you guys think? Aside from my snotty rant – would your business be OK if you cut out all services to your best clients? Would they go elsewhere, or would they just understand? Most companies are having to look at cutbacks and ways to save money -but is everyone also killing the service? I doubt it. We push for more web meetings and conference calls, but still take calls 24/7 and give incredible service. Where have you cut costs without cutting service? And have costs been the same for the small fries as the big guys in your customer list?