Time for an Airline Reality Check
By William J. Furney
The Bali Times
Full-service airlines had better stop fawning over business- and first-class customers, because in this imperilled economic climate, they’re a severely endangered species.
It’s about time the airlines instead started paying attention to their bread-and-butter: the ordinary Joe and Jane who purchase economy-class tickets but who for as long as anyone can recall have largely been treated with haughty distain and squeezed into the back of a plane.
Just as the global economic reorganisation is bringing top-heavy companies – from car and electrical-appliance manufacturers to the slew of overextended financial institutions – into line with reality, so too the airlines that have long since ruled the skies are coming in for a hard landing.
Past and ongoing crises such as outlandish fuel prices and health scares notwithstanding, established airlines are, in this time of new economic conservatism, facing the necessity to cut the frills and save money to survive.
Bellwether Singapore Airlines, globally admired for its high level of service and comfort, hardly made a penny in the forth quarter just past, reporting an astounding 92-percent drop in net profit. Further afield, the equally once mighty Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong unimaginably lost a billion US dollars last year, and also suffered mightily in Q1 09. It has told its staff – thousands of them – to take long, unpaid holidays, among other cost-cutting measures, as it attempts to stave off bankruptcy. Many more are in the same disintegrating boat, including Australia’s QANTAS.
Yet just today on satellite-relayed news channels like BBC World News and CNN, these very airlines are still holding out, hoping the lost flock of high-paying passengers (or their employers) will soon return. There is no evidence of that in sight, according to aviation analysts. Still we see glowing images of business executives bunking down for the night in a bed-type seat hovered over by a nurse-cum-stewardess. Such advertising is vacuous, not market-led, and reeks of the old-world economy that prized excess over prudence.
The big boys of the skies are also being trounced, and rightly so, by the uppity budget newcomers, airlines that offer to get you to your destination for far less, including much less fuss. And therein lies the message that has thus far eluded on-high aviation: the days of glamour, elitist, class flying are over. This mode of transport has become so commonplace that it’s no longer a select way of travelling. People want from A to B at the lowest common price, with safety assured.
The outré management practice of the airline giants is adding to the glee of more savvy managements at new airlines. The former don’t get the new travelling landscape, business or pleasure, whereas the clear-thinking latter are just lapping it up, and flying into record profitability.
For years we’ve been forced to pony up to pay for execs’ lofty salaries and shareholder’s dividends when we wanted to fly; now we’re getting the deals we’ve wanted for many years, and it’s not before time.
Praiseworthy in the carrier business is Malaysia’s AirAsia, which has arms all over the region, including in Indonesia, and recently started flying direct from Bali to some Southeast Asian capitals and, this month, Australia – including taking over Garuda’s longstanding and newly vacated Darwin route.
Earlier this year it launched a route to the UK, which is commendable in this crunch time for travel. With the nous of its management team, it’s hoped AirAsia X will go further than other Asian low-cost long-haulers that quickly went belly-up, and that must surely have the full-service, high-fare crowd in a perpetual sweat.
Look to Europe: to British Airways’ once-dominant role usurped by upstart no-frills carrier Ryanair, whose rapid expansion fuelled by passenger demand for cheap tickets has placed the Irish company atop the list of world’s largest airlines by international passenger numbers.
So it’s time to come down from the clouds, boys. Start taking care of the average paying customer, and you might just weather this latest, most calamitous storm. The days of snooty segregation are over; and as the financial system in countries around the world undergoes a Darwinian catharsis – an emergence of the slimmest and fittest, as the lopsided fall, flailing, by the wayside – so too in the aviation industry is a leaner picture emerging.
It is one that hugely benefits the travelling public.
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