Have Ancillary Fees Increased Entitlement Attitudes?

“I  also believe they will see far more ‘over-entitled’ whiners from the folks who pay $39 more for a ticket and feel they deserve better treatment”, posted FlyerTalk member avidflyer earlier today pertaining to the monetization of first class where seats in the first class cabin of the aircraft are sold first before given as free upgrades to members of frequent flier loyalty programs who have earned elite level status. “We are seeing it with FCM already. I have seen FAR more bad behavior/lack of class in FC since FCM started.”

Have ancillary fees increased entitlement attitudes?

Think about it: if a product or service is offered as included in the price of what a person has paid, that person might simply overlook any error and chalk it up to “things happen”; but when a person pays extra for that product or service and something goes wrong, that person might feel more entitled and raise a fuss over what could be considered the most minute of errors — and perhaps take out his or her frustration or anger on other passengers or members of the flight crew.

Delta Air Lines released its financial results for the first quarter of 2015. “Delta earned more money in the first quarter of 2015 than in any other Q1 in its history”, according to this article written by Marshall Jackson of MJ on Travel. “Delta remains a strong airline with a weak loyalty program relative to the competition. At the moment, that is a combination that is working for Delta, and I’m not surprised. People (including this blogger) fly Delta for a host of reasons, with the loyalty program being somewhere down the list.”

I remember when — not too long ago — Delta Air Lines was a great airline which was not doing too well. As losses were mounting with the airline — bleeding cash without a financial tourniquet, so to speak — I was still treated well and flew as a passenger on flights operated by Delta Air Lines whenever possible.

I still fly as a passenger on Delta Air Lines; but not as much as in the past. There are not as many benefits available to me as there used to be in the past; and flights have become more expensive — but I still patronize their services because of their customer service, schedules and performance…

…but I cannot help but keep thinking that Delta Air Lines — and other legacy airlines, for that matter — are currently acting like the grasshopper and not like the ant. Those airlines keep visiting the well in search of even more profits and ways to break records quarter after financial quarter — but at what cost; and at what point will the well become dry?

We have been reading articles about seats becoming narrower, with airlines entertaining the idea of cramming even more seats aboard airplanes. They charge for the privilege of checking luggage. They have raised the stakes and placed tighter restrictions on earning elite level status…

…and there seem to be more reports of “air rage” and incidents aboard airplanes. The impression is that passengers and flight crew members are increasingly stressed; while executives of the airlines are lauded for their leadership and stakeholders are handsomely rewarded with higher stock prices.

“Delta’s business is performing well, producing the best March quarter, both operationally and financially, in Delta’s history,” said Richard Anderson — who is the chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines — according to this official press release. “While the strong dollar is creating headwinds with international revenues, it also contributes to the lower fuel prices which will offset those headwinds with over $2 billion in fuel savings this year. We are looking at June quarter operating margins of 16-18 percent with over $1.5 billion of free cash flow — these record results and cash flows show that the strong dollar is a net positive for Delta.”

That is great news for Delta Air Lines; and I wish that airline all of the best — but what is being done to ensure the long-term growth and stability of Delta Air Lines? What will happen when the economy is not as robust and supportive for the environment of commercial airlines as it is today? Is that a problem for future stakeholders and not the current ones whose financial gains may not be affected by such a downturn in the future?

When the economy was anemic, there were actually passengers who supported their favorite airlines — no matter what

…but that was during the days when ancillary fees were practically nonexistent and air travel seemed to be more civilized. Could a downturn in the economy in the future — coupled with ancillary fees, entitlement attitudes and “air rage” — create a “perfect storm” of sorts?

I am not certain of the answer to that question; but I do believe that now is the time for airlines to start thinking more about the long term in addition to finding ways to increase revenue — and, hopefully, profits — in the short term, as intimated by Marshall Jackson:

“What I’d like to see from Delta is an investment of a tiny fraction of these profits in openness and transparency in the SkyMiles program. Be forthright about where you are headed with SkyMiles and stop the surprises. And until you make the jump to a totally revenue-based program, publish the award chart already.”

That is not enough. A balance needs to be struck where airlines can still squeeze out profits while having a minimal detrimental effect on air travel in general for its customers. Continue to improve the flight experience for all travelers and not just those who earned the highest levels of elite status. Monetize whatever products and services will be profitable — but without “nickel and diming” passengers with a plethora of ancillary fees while simultaneously subjecting them to increasingly worsening conditions…

…and perhaps air travel will improve in terms of the flight experience and in terms of profitability. It seems as though the airlines overcorrected from their bleak days when they were starving for cash. Why not provide an environment conducive to a “win-win” situation for all?

Perhaps I am being too idealistic in my thoughts; but in the meantime, I would like to know of your thoughts: have ancillary fees increased entitlement attitudes — and is there a direct correlation between the two?

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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