Airlines Seem to be Immune from Criticism

I’ve posted a few times about airlines, both about Delta’s Frequent Flyer Skymiles program and about Chalk Airlines’ poor adherence to any decent degree of customer service.

A few weeks ago, uber blogger Josh Hallett followed up on Orlando blogger Alex Rudloff’s post encouraging people not to fly Spirit Airlines. In it, Josh noted the irony of the blog post showing up as #2 in Google’s results for searches on Spirit Airlines, appearing even higher than the Wikipedia article about Spirit Airlines.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune picked up on the story and reported it. Josh Hallett astutely noted the unresponsiveness of the airline by pointing out Spirit’s spokesperson comments:

“We wouldn’t respond to a blog post,” said spokeswoman Alison Russell. “This goes back to the larger question of the veracity of everything you read on Internet blogs. Our customer service is great.”

Wow. Rather arrogant. Josh goes on to point out that there are 400+ comments on Alex’s original post that say otherwise.

This kind of made me think.

First, I’m guessing that airlines are aware that, for the most part, you can find detractors wide and far all over the internet. Since it isn’t too easy to just start up a competitor, their reluctance to spend time or money is easily understandable, at least when viewed from the perspective of the economic bottom-line and the next quarterly report.

Second, I would think a media spokesperson in 2007 would have been schooled a bit on the impact of blogs and blogging. This might have been understandable in 2003. But after all the fiascoes of companies failing to qualify the impact of even a single blog post on the internet, much less a heavily-commented and well-indexed post, it just reeks of incompetence and tomfoolery. You could make a motion for Ms. Russell to be fired, but in one sense, she is further proving that Alex’s original beef with Spirit Airlines isn’t just limited to ticket agents. It seems to exist at other levels and could well be an indication of a cancer within. Stockholders beware.

This leads me to a question. How do average people take on companies that are immune from criticism? If a company is perpetually incompetent, the source of frequent public scorn (and lawsuits), and yet fails to address the issues, even daring to mock those who complain, what is the next step?

One idea is this: I don’t know if such a service is out there, but it would be interesting to see a search engine type service that aggregates blog posts by positive and negative and compares them to competitors in the same market.  Although all competitors in a given market may have a significant number of negative reviews (as would likely be the case with airlines), it might be helpful and put some market pressure on some companies, while helping to financially break the ones that are doing nothing but taking consumer’s money and becoming excellent only at making the public miserable. Think of it as Consumers’ Reports Accelerated. I would think a company like TechCrunch or Technorati would be the ideal candidate to start something like this. I’d recommend rating the companies on a bell curve. In other words, if there are twenty domestic airline carriers, the letter grade scale (A, B, C, D, and F) would be split evenly over the scores of those twenty airlines. Thus, only four airlines would have an A, four a B, and so on.

I wonder what letter grade Chalks and Spirit would wind up with?

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Having worked for Delta for a number of years, I have mixed feelings about air lines.

While I loved the job, the industry as a whole has long ago gone from one that was catering to “elite” people. In years past flying was a special thing to do. It was hideously expensive, and the air lines and the passengers all had higher standards.

Air lines of 2007 are what Continental Trailways and Greyhound used to be, the cheap way to travel. Everybody flies now and the glory days are long gone.

There might be a few companies out there that have high standards, but I don’t see it getting any better overall in the coming years.

The air line’s attitude seems to be, “Hey, we’re flying you across the country for $249, what kind of service are you expecting for that price?”

I’m sure glad I went back to college and learned something so that I no longer have to load luggage and freight on airplanes.

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