Tuesday, May 27, 2008

All The PR In The World Won't Save You When You Do Something That Really Sucks

A Shocker: American Airlines Finds Sympathy In Short Supply When it Announces Charge for First Checked Bag

Nowadays, we no longer have low expectations about the airline industry. Low expectations would be cause for celebration.
No expectations rule the day, except for paying for a ticket, getting a seat and then hoping the plane actually takes off and lands at your destination.
Of course, all that's not a given.
But even as the airlines try to prove otherwise, there are still a few aspects of air travel that would be held sacred. That includes not forking over cash to check just one bag. Now that American Airlines would like to disabuse you of that notion and hit you up for $15 for that privilege, it also wants your understanding.
The explanation certainly makes sense: The airline's cash is being sucked through the nozzle of a jet-fuel truck. And those pesky low-fare airlines, to boot, just won't leave us alone. We need to raise cash in every way possible, or soon our fleet will be based permanently in the Mojave Desert. Yada, yada, yada.
Somehow, the airline seems shocked that no one dropped by to give them a hug and tell them "There, there, it's OK, here's your $15. Now go save that company of yours, you big lug!"
"We understood that consumers would be frustrated with another fee," Mike Flanagan, senior VP at Weber Shandwick, American's public-relations shop of record told Advertising Age. "Precisely for that reason; we did our best to communicate the full impact that oil is having on our business."
So, while Flanagan & Co. essentially did what they're paid to do, the net effect was zero. No one disputes that current oil prices are a deal-breaker for airlines. But passengers simply don't care anymore. American would have been better counseled to try and find the money in a less-visible way.
Passengers would be placated if American simply raised fares, like they've done consistently this year to buffet fuel price spikes. No one would be happy about paying more, but at least you can understand the rationale of fuel surcharges in the current environment.
Instead, charging for checked bags for non-elite fliers implies we're all in this together. We're not.
In recent years, airlines took away free food, charged you to buy a ticket if you didn't get it online, added onerous change fees and tacked on higher charges for transporting pets and unaccompanied minors, for starters. And then you get to sit in a cramped plane that's filled to the brim because airlines have reduced flights to save money.
What American shouldn't get or attempt is $15 each way for the first checked bag. This isn't the answer to their money problems, nor even part of an answer. But it could be what helps fliers determine when enough is really enough.
And no amount of PR will be able to explain that away.

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