U.S. Airlines have long insisted that disappearing amenities and shrinking legroom are a direct result of consumer preferences, a just-released MSN poll seems to support that position.
When facing questions about ever decreasing seat pitch, scaled-back inflight amenities and a la carte pricing for everything from snacks to checked bags, U.S. airline officials have a remarkably consistent message – given a choice, passengers overwhelmingly choose cheap base fare over any other factor when booking flights. Airlines unapologetically insist that in order to survive in the free market, luxuries such as extra legroom, meal service and free checked bags have necessarily been traded for cost savings and cheaper ticket prices.
Frontier Airlines Chairman Bill Franke may have summed up the prevailing attitude of the airline industry best in off-the-cuff comments he made at the most recent Dubai Airshow in November. The budget airline official didn’t mince words.
“The consumer is essentially like your teenage spoiled brat,” Franke told industry insiders gathered at the event. “They had been flying with all the amenities for ever and ever and that’s what they think they ought to get. They don’t want to pay any more for the ticket, they just want all the amenities.”
It turns out Franke has a valid point. A recent survey by MSN and Business Insider found that 51 percent of U.S. air travelers consider ticket price the single most important factor when booking a flight. Convenience of the itinerary was a distant second. If these poll results are any indication, any airline that touts inflight amenities, customer service or legroom might just be barking up the wrong tree, as cheap fares and direct flights appear far more likely to entice consumers.
For the 49 percent of us who would prefer enough room to bend our knees, the airlines say they have us covered as well, but it’s gonna cost you.
“[Consumers] criticize us if we charge for more legroom,” former United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek told attendees of an industry banquet in July 2015. “Let me tell you though: That’s what businesses do. If you want more data on your data plan so you can watch faster, better cat videos, you call AT&T, and they’re happy to increase your data plan -and they charge you for it. That’s what businesses do.”