Workers and consumers these days could echo Rodney Dangerfield’s line about not getting any respect. Labor Day has come and gone with very little mention of its significance by the major newspapers or the television networks. It is not for lack of news. Non-union labor has been slipping behind in their inflation adjusted wages since 1973, while many union workers are finally confronting management with intentions to strike.
From the possible strike by dockworkers working San Diego to Seattle to the threatened strike by hotel workers in Chicago’s convention business to the standoff between the machinist union and Boeing to the possible work stoppage by janitors in Boston’s downtown office buildings, the issues of living wages, job security, give-backs and the ultimatums of mismanaged bankrupt companies could fill many a news hole for the Labor Day media.
No way, say newspapers which have cut their labor beat all over the country; only a handful of full time labor reporters are left. No way, says ABC’s Nightline program to be rerun on Labor Day. When I called to seek an explanation, an ABC person shrugged and said that the staff just wanted to take the Holiday off.
Of course the AFL-CIO and its large member unions could have made some news themselves for Labor Day, such as mounting a determined driveto repeal the 55 year old Taft-Hartley Act which is a chokehold on workers’ right to organize. Having done nothing about this repressive law for almost half a century, such an announcement by the trade union movement would have truly been news!
Now consider the way the major airlines are “regulating” consumers in order to secure more dollars from them. These airline bosses are issuing orders in a rather peculiar manner if that is their goal.
See if you can follow this logic. US Airways, which has survived in recent years largely from their defacto monopoly routes (like charging $900 for a round trip from Washington, DC to Syracuse, New York), decides to bring its employees and its creditors to their knees by declaring bankruptcy this summer. In its airplane magazine (August issue), the CEO David Siegels writes “Our challenge is to run our business in a way that will make you want to fly with us again and again.” So, in the past few days, US Airways imposed several unilateral “regulations” effective immediately with no invited feedback from its supposedly revered customers.
The airline announced, along with American Airlines, (the major airlines like to do these things at the same time) that passengers with discount non-refundable tickets will have their tickets confiscated if they do not take the designated flight on the ticket. These tickets cannot be used toward another US Airways’ departure. They are rendered worthless. Never mindthat people often have to change plans or miss planes due to emergencies, traffic tie-ups or weather. Too bad. Just shut up and patronize US Airways more and “again and again.”
For good measure, US Airways announced the same day that it will charge you $25 for each paper ticket you use (instead of online) and, if you’re upset by that on a transatlantic flight, relax, there will be no more alcoholic beverages in economy class.
Northwest Airlines similarly raised its penalty for leisure fares using paper tickets to $25.
I won’t burden you with a host of other Mickey Mouse rules imposed on the airlines’ customers, other than to say that these and other companies using uniform standard form contracts have become private legislatures. Whether you are dealing with credit card companies, landlord leases, insurance policies, bank deposit cards, hospital waivers, you just sign on the dotted line. Going to a competitor merely shows you a similar fine print contract, so there is normally no escape.
In the airline business, there is one notable escape though it has limited routes due to the ways the major airlines control airport slots.
I’m referring to Southwest Airlines which somehow is making more money selling cheaper tickets every year than the top three largest airlines combined. Southwest doesn’t have all these rules and regulations to afflict,discomfort and irritate you. True you can sometimes get a small discount if you buy your ticket online but there is no penalty in using a paper ticket. The staff is cheerful, helpful, knowledgeable and actually seeking to make life easier for its passengers. That is why Southwest is gaining market share and, if it had the slots, would mop up the top-heavy, over-charging bureaucratic and money-losing major airlines.
These must be difficult times for US Airways’ Director of Consumer Affairs, Deborah Thompson, and the airline’s volunteer Consumer Advisory Board. Just wait until passengers with discount tickets worth hundreds of dollars find out that US Airways has confiscated them if they missed the flight through no fault of their own.
Maybe US Airways’ motto should be — “Take that, passengers, and be sure to come back again and again.”
Mr. Siegel and his boss, Mr. Steven Wolfe, need to recover a sense of shame for still paying themselves handsomely while their company is in bankruptcy. Their recent disrespect toward their customers is sure to generate more rage than revenue.