Improving Performance: There’s got to be a better way to travel

The airlines are reeling. They claim several majors will go under before the year’s out, and they blame it on the price of fuel. They say it’s killing them. It’s killing everyone, but I’m not sure it’s the cause of the airlines’ plight. In fact, regardless of the price of fuel, I think they brought this one on themselves.

If they’re losing money on every flight, as they claim, why not just raise ticket prices? That’s what everyone else is doing. Even a loaf of bread is more expensive today because of transportation costs. But the airlines have created a special problem for themselves. Many people now shop for tickets on Internet sites that help them find the lowest prices. Raising prices can suddenly eliminate customers.

Since many of the airlines treat their customers uniformly poorly, price is the only differentiator, in many respects.

I’ve been working for a client in San Jose and flying back and forth to California. Thankfully, I found a non-stop out of Boston that lands me in San Jose, so I don’t have to drive down from San Francisco.

But it’s a six-hour flight, and they don’t even give us a meal. They provide high-carb snacks, and try to make you feel like they’re giving you something special. Ask for an extra bag of cashews, and we hear, “I’m sorry, but the other passengers might like some too.” So why didn’t they board enough for everyone?

And when we land, they expect us to clean the plane before we get off. “We have to turn this plane around so the outbound passengers don’t have to wait.” When’s the last time you ate in a restaurant and were asked to do the dishes before you left?

A seat with “extra leg room” is an additional $20. It’s still pretty tight; I can’t imagine what an ordinary seat is like, and I hope I never find out. Thankfully, they’re usually on time. The last flight was $589 round-trip.

Forcing fuller planes

Just for kicks, I called Air Planning in Salem and spoke with Jason. Air Planning schedules air charters for celebrities, sports teams and even the White House. I asked what it would cost to charter a small jet from Lawrence Municipal Airport in Massachusetts (It’s closer to me than Manchester and the parking is free.) to San Jose.

A round-trip (return flight three days later) on a Cessna Citation or a Learjet 35 would be about $23,000. Standard snacks and soft drinks as well as stock alcohol would be included. An actual meal would be extra. Jason was careful to stress that I would be treated like a human being, and there’s plenty of leg room.

Now, I really hate to admit this, but I’ve never had a client that was quite that interested in my comfort, at least I don’t think so – I’ve never had the courage to ask. So Air Planning is not likely to have me as a customer in the near future.

Even so, there are a lot of people like me, who want to be treated like human beings when we travel, but can’t quite afford the $23,000. Wouldn’t you think they could add a little to the $589 and make it happen?

Instead their strategy is steadily reducing capacity, forcing fuller planes. It would be like stores limiting the merchandise we can buy. If all the stores did it together, demand would exceed supply, and of course, the stores would make less money.

Admittedly, some airlines have first class, which is much cheaper than air charter. There’s more room, but their connections don’t seem to work for me lately, and their on-time performance is terrible.

Yes, many people travel on price, assuming everything else is the same. Differentiate your service and things are different. When we go out to dinner, we don’t typically go to the Web to compare prices on lobster or prime rib. Restaurants know how to differentiate themselves.

Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham. He has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871; fax 603-894-6539;;