If you have some money then getting on an airplane can be a pretty cool experience.
Ah, scratch that. Once upon a time if you had some money to spare you could get on an airplane and get service -- be left alone to nap or watch movies or ponder your next move.
Every one of those days is over. Now you're lucky if you take off within hours, the cabin air is breathable, and the food is explained to you. Bathrooms work -- you are fortunate. There's an entertainment system where the headphone plugs aren't wonky, man, you've scored. The seats actually recline -- ten out of ten.
Get there without feeling like shit? You're the man ...
This is not a blog post for Tourist Class -- this is supposed to be read by executives and others who have to fly every week not by choice! Everyone else, go read Chris Elliott. He's awesome. And at www.elliott.org. Oh, this is certainly not for the people who want to know how to sit up front cheaply -- you need Amtrak.com.
So without further messing with your head, here are ways airline industry can improve itself without going out of business or making me wish Greyhound did my route.
Some of these are tres obvious ("There's nothing common about common sense") but it's coming from a guy who spends more than half his year on planes so don't argue with me.
1. Start charging more -- damn: The flights from Washington DC to New York are like 100 bucks now. That's ridiculous. Kids, share gas costs, start your engines, and do what I did when I was young: Drive. Everyone else, pay. It's the bullshit cheap-ass fares (yes, I am mad) that are killing the airline industry. And for those of you who think I'm kidding, if ONE MORE AIRLINE GOES OUT OF BUSINESS you will have to wait a week to get a seat to anything. You want that?
2. Charge by weight: That's it. Make Americans lose some flab -- me included. What a wonderful opportunity to make both the Transportation Secretary AND the Surgeon General look good.
3. Get rid of the little teeny flights to nowhere (can't anyone walk?): Whenever I'm in Midwest I see gates with "trips" from like St. Paul to Minneapolis ... and I think, why are airlines doing this? Concentrate on what makes you money -- you heard me, all flights now go from L.A. to N.Y. or from anywhere to Bentonville.
4. Regulate, baby: Government, you know what to do? So what if it costs a fortune to fly? In the end people like me get reimbursed and perhaps we'll only fly now when necessary. A pal told me that his client paid him 5 grand (!) for a project but flies him from his home base to Paris five times to discuss it -- 'cause the flight is so cheap. Give him the money. Pump up the economy!
5. Charge us for EVERYTHING: You guys get money for giving us stuff in Business Class (ads on platters, new CDs, offers for credit cards, Rolaids...) and we hate you for the trouble. Why not make us realize how bad it is for you and say, "From now on, everything you want will cost. " You want a carry-on with that ticket? Five bucks. You want food? Five bucks (cheap enough for a BC meal, right). You want a seat in the Exit Row? Five bucks. You want to be among the first on the plane at all times? Five bucks per month. You want a video player? Five buck rental. Get the picture? For the bitchers out there who think charging for a bag was tough, get with the program or stay home. I vote the latter.
6. Make customer service the number one most improved part of the industry: Look, you want people like me to stay loyal with fervor, treat us with respect. That means training your service people to note (yes, this is elitist) who are the random flyers and who you should pay attention to, 24/7 ... and make sure all options are open to us. The other day I was told a United flight was on hold. Oh no! I explained. I've got a connection. So they found out every single possible flight that would get me near my destination and booked them all. When I got off the plane someone was waiting for me -- with a fucking Golf Cart! Yes, I made it. With a smile.
7. Make frequent flier programs into bonus programs for people who fly a lot as opposed to (read on please): If I fly 90,000 miles I want anything I want -- no questions asked. Yes, there are a lot of us, so tough. You make a deal with the devil (me) that says "Laermer, stay loyal and I'll give you free upgrades, massages in First, you name it." I'll hang on. As for the rest of the stoolies, well, do what Amex does and give them tchachkes for their 10,000 big-whoop miles
8. Communicate: So there are problems. Don't make us guess, and don't have us find out with the masses. American decides to kill 12 percent of its domestic and I have to read it on Google News with my Obama Hourly? No -- tell us by special email before you announce the dropoff. I know AMR is a public company, so what? Let us know there will be News on that day. Then give us a special number or email to get in touch if we want assurances (and not Dan@sprint.com like that CEO at the phone company--we don't want spam coming back to our boxes).
9. Stop paying yourself so much money -- and stop talking to the "investors" like we can't hear you: This is duofold. First, I'm sick of hearing how much money the top dogs make at these failing airlines. Truth is, you lived high off hog when oil was less than $100 but did nothing to plan for the inevitable hike. You suck. And stop, JetBlue and Virgin America, announcing the evil deeds you are planning with glee ("more expensive tickets will follow") to the IR community. We read same columns as Buffett! If you are running a frills-free airline, keep it cheap. Stop hiring attendants who put passengers in the toilet, literally and figuratively.
10. Cut the merger crap and fly on your own. US Air needs to merge because it's a horrible company that ruined America West- - air karma! If United tries to merge with one airline they sincerely don't want to be in bed with, I will begin to fly Continental. And that's a threat that even the TSA can't do anything about.
Bottom line: Something has to change, and drastically. It's like Reagan's Morning in America for the airlines -- and skies ain't too friendly.
Follow Richard Laermer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/laermer