Sunday, July 31, 2005

You know you're a second rate airline...

...when your trans-Pacific fleet, which regularly does 14 hour flights, still doesn't have individual screens in economy class, and somehow you still can't manage to schedule enough movies to fill more than half the trip. What, they couldn't afford an extra two or three videos? Or you're about the only airline (along with the other US legacy carriers) not to have upgraded your business class to flat bed seats.

But then again, there was never any doubt about United was there?

It never ceases to amaze me that the US legacy carriers charge twice as much as the Asian carriers for half the service and still can't make money, even though my rational mind knows why. In terms of United and the other legacy carriers becoming truly competitive, there are only three things that count: labor costs, labor costs and labor costs.

But it seems their staff don't get it. After two years in bankruptcy (or chewing through cash at such a rate that it's the only possible desitination) the legacy carriers have extracted labor concessions that have closed about a quarter of the gap with the cost structure of the likes of Southwest (or say Singapore Airlines on international routes). And some, like the United flight attendants, still don't get it. I know it's tough to face the prospect of a 50% cut in pay. But the world doesn't owe anyone a living. When you've screwed your employer to the point that they can't stay in business, you've got to take those lumps.

At the end of the day we don't need United and the others. Southwest and Jetblue have shown that there's a very viable and much more customer friendly model just waiting to replace them. And if international aviation wasn't an artifically regulated market, we wouldn't be flying US carriers anywhere.

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