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Airline Industry Needs a Govt. Czar to Clean It Up

Posted by: David Kiley on September 2, 2009

Who isn’t struck by the speed in which Ron Bloom, who leads the White House’s auto industry task force, spear-headed rapid restructuring of the auto industry.

By anyone’s account, he forced on GM and Chrysler, and by extension Ford, restructuring and reform that would have taken a decade to get done without Chapter 11. Sure, some people, like dealers and laid off employees, are hurt. But it had to be done. It was done fast. And we will be the better for a coherent, logical auto industry set up to make money.

Now, let it be so for the miserable airline industry. Ask Mr. Bloom to put together a task force, and let’s use the authority of the White House and FAA to force reforms on the industry to speed air travel and treat consumers (voters) like people again.

I’d like to be on that task force. And here is a start:

1. Spirit Air has a helluva nerve charging me $12 to reserve a coach seat. After I joined their $9 fare club? And I have a frequent flyer account. I get charged $12 to reserve just a regular seat? Not an exit row. Not a plussed up seat with more foot-room. Just a coach seat, one of the ones they held back from earlier booking just so they could soak people like me another $12. Since when is the seat extra? This is the most nonsensical, off-putting practice you people have come up with yet. Spirit isn’t the only one doing it. No more.

2 Last summer, I understood why the airlines were charging extras to make up for higher fuel costs. But the sky-high fuel costs are long gone. And still we are being soaked with extra fees. No more extra fees for checked luggage unless oil is above $100 per barrel.

3. I go through the whole security check, extra wanding, etc. because I have a knee replacement. Under no circumstances should such people as me be subjected to a second, random search and screening at the gate. One full-body grope is enough thank you.

4. Have someone count the carry-on bags that are going on the plane, so we can skip the nonsense of people lugging more bags on the plane than it will carry, and then having to fight their way back up to the front to gate-check a bag before the plane can take off.

5. Future planes must be designed so that a standard carry-on bags can fit wheels in or out on both sides of the plane.

6. If my ipod is really going to interfere with the plane’s instruments during take off and landing, the damned plane isn’t really air worthy. Let’s all just admit that.

7. Charge people $5 for bringing their own stinky fast food aboard.

8. Now we can’t stow anything in the seat-backs? Forget that.

9 Attendants must do a better job of hustling people aboard and into their seats and immediately recognizing when a carry-on is too big for the overhead bins. Attendants get penalized if they let bags on that don’t fit, and get rewarded for getting people seated within a certain time from when the gate opens.

10. Board people this way—all window seats first, middle seats second, aisle seats last.

11. Make all TSA security procedures national. Now, some airports require the belt to come off, but not all airports. Some, but not all airports, say you can’t put stuff like wallet and cellphone inside shoes when the shoes go through the screener. Make it all uniform across the country, so there are no surprises.

12. For pete’s sake, profile. The grandma from Ann Arbor in the wheel-chair is not packing an explosive in her leg brace. Stop wasting our time by checking people who in a million years wouldnt be doing something bad. A woman who can be over-powered by a parakeet is not a risk.

13. This is just the beginning of how I would reform the airlines. Feel free to ad your own suggestions for the next Airline Czar.

14. Right now, people are made to go through a truly idiotic exercise. If their checked bag is overweight, they are charged big fees...$50, $90...depending on the airline. So, a person, while at the counter is compelled to rifle their bag, and....wait for it...transfer the stuff to their carry on. Huh? It's a weight thing, right? So, I am putting stuff from one bag to another, going on the same plane. Irritates customers and holds up the line. It begs the question: if I am in an elevator, and it's falling, and I jump up at the last moment before impact, don't I really just fall a few inches?

Reader Comments


September 3, 2009 4:22 AM

Many fair points about service, but the airlines aren't profitable enough *not* to introduce ancillary services. We can't have it both ways.

There needs to be a paradigm shift in what the US expects from their carriers. Yes, the frenzied 'carry on your kitchen sink' boarding process needs to be changed.

But be careful of what you wish for....
look at Ryananir's model of low cost/ no service:
- 1 carry on item, max 10kg (that means 1 handbag OR 1 laptop OR 1 small suitcase or 1 bag of duty free, strictly 1 item)
- pay for priority boarding
- scramble for seats, hope you and your family sit together
- pay for check in luggage, max weight 15kgs, very expensive for excess weight
In short, a service designed for maximum carrier efficiciency and economy and a deliberate zero customer service mentality.


September 4, 2009 9:41 AM

Have a separate section (in the back) for babies and families with children.

If you are sick, you are not allowed to fly, or you have to wear a mask.

If you are overweight, then you have to buy two seats. No more "airline seats aren't made for average people" excuses. They are. You are just not average.

Update our air traffic control to a GPS based system where we have real-time tracking, not the radar based "the plane was here 5 seconds ago" that we have now.

James Mason

September 4, 2009 10:48 AM

If you really want to know how to run an airline, ask Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Etihad or Cathay Pacific how to do it.


September 4, 2009 2:01 PM

Only one trip through bankruptcy court. The second time results in forced liquidation.

All airline executives from line manager up to the members of the board must fly coach.

No one can earn in salary (i.e., income) more than 5 times the lowest paid full time employee, or 1% of gross sales revenue, which ever is lowest.

A plane is considered late if it does not leave the runway at the scheduled time. If the plane fails to leave the ground at the scheduled time, then all passengers receive a full refund for that portion of the ticket. The ticket represents a contract. I want to leave the ground at 1:27 p.m., and, in return, I gave you $250.

Once all doors of the plane have been closed, the airline has one hour to get the plane off the ground. Otherwise, that flight is considered late (see above), and the plane has to return to the gate. No more kidnapping your customers.

All federal subsidies of airports and airlines ends. No more Essential Air Service nonsense that props up bogus airlines. If you want to live Timbuktu, then you either drive to another airport, take a bus, or pay the full price of the ticket. Either way, I am no longer subsidizing your decision to live in Timbuktu.


September 4, 2009 2:57 PM

This has been said before by others, but I am happy you stated here so clearly. Especially the iPod bit. And the boarding procedure. My goodness, why couldn't they think of that themselves? Do they hire people with a high school degree to figure this stuff out?
Can you be the next flying Czar?


September 8, 2009 4:43 PM

Boarding window, center, aisle is the first thing that should have been set up when the first airplane boarded. When I flew my first "zone" flight, with zones on the tickets, I thought that is what they were doing, but NO. Zones just confused people more. This will cause faster boarding and also allows people to fully settle in to their seats once on the plane, rather than waiting to buckle up and settle in to the IPOD and reading until the guy in the window seat shows up, has them stand up, then undresses from eskimo-wear to shorts and a tshirt while you stand there waiting to get back in your seat. If you are late for your zone, you wait till the last people are on, then you can get on. Also, the benefits of the aisle seat (comfort) are balanced by the fact that the window seat guy (less comfort) got the best spot for his carryon.
Also, fees for checked luggage make people carry on MORE. You are putting the carrot behind the horse. Of course people will carry more on if they have to pay to lose their luggage and wait an extra hour to get it off the plane. How about free checked bags, but charge a fee for carryons. Anything more than a book and an IPOD will cost you. Sorry ladies, "purses" is too loosely interpreted, pay for them too. Food onboard, pay. Bags, pay. Laptops, pay. No offense if you want to work or whatever. You just have to pay for the wasted time/efficiency you are causing.
For more income, planes should sell music and movie downloads. The kiosks in the airport should be on the planes, accessible to each passenger. Not hard with wireless technology. Airports should better manage the schedules so planes can take off right after they pull out onto the tarmac. Why schedule 5 planes to leave at 5 PM and none to leave from 515 to 525? You know they wont all leave at 5. Punish the airports and airlines for this lateness. To make them more profitable, they should tax the airports and parking lots around the airports. Meaning the money made by those money grubbers should be shared with the airlines based on how many flights that airline has with that airport. When you pay $13/day to take up 16'x10' of paved land that has planes flying over it (not prime real estate for buildings or houses), somebody could pass some of that ridiculous gouging up the ladder to the airlines that cause the value of that land.
Im sure there is more. I have written letters, especially about the carry on issue.


September 8, 2009 5:36 PM

I've travelled in other parts of the world where they actually treat you like a valued customer. I've also paid $10,000 to fly business class on a US airline only to be reprimanded for using the wrong bathroom by one of the crusty but heavily tenured flight attendants that get the plum international routes. Something is wrong with that picture.


September 8, 2009 7:02 PM

Plenty of great ideas. However, I would reconsider #12. Complacencies equate to vulnerabilities, the kinds of vulnerabilities terrorists love. The unfortunate truth is anyone is capable of being a threat, regardless of how harmless they appear. The seemingly innocent has a history of catching us off guard.


September 9, 2009 5:19 AM

ya ur right

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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