United Airlines is, according to reports, getting help from the US government in collecting more fees from passengers. Oh, I know the article did not read that way exactly, but it is what the article says.
According to those reports, United has asked the TSA to help it screen oversized bags during the security check and send those non-compliant travelers back to the check-in counter to pay and check the bags. This is not a new rule. It is just another example of how the airlines continue to view their customers as both an advisory and a deep well of uncollected fees.
This comes right when US Airways is exiting from the Star Alliance, knocking a huge slice out of the United brand’s appeal to frequent travelers like myself. In years past, if United could not get me to many of the destinations I needed, I could fly US Airways and still collect my frequent flyer miles on United. No more. The only one collecting anything anymore is United.
Previously, if your bag was too large for the carry-on compartments, United would check the bag at the gate for no fee. Now, when TSA sends you back to the counter, United will charge you an additional fee to check the bag. Oh, don’t worry. United says this is not because it wants to squeeze more cash out of the already tightly squeezed sardines that fill its aging fleet of aircraft. It says it’s just decided to enforce a long-standing regulation.
Really? “United collects $638 million in checked-bag fees a year but wants to increase that figure. In a January earnings call, the airline’s chief revenue officer, Jim Compton, said United hopes to collect an extra $700 million over the next four years from extras such as baggage fees and the sale of extra legroom,” said the report from the Associated Press.
Here is the basic problem with airlines, and in fact, most publically traded companies. They confuse their constituency with the investor. You know the investor? He is the gambler that places uninformed wagers on companies like Best Buy.
The most powerful brands reflect the customer they wish to influence. In United’s case, that is the gambler… sorry, I mean investor. United obviously knows nothing about the customer who flies on its airline.
Just this week, in planning a quick business trip, my travel agent suggested I start accumulating miles on a different airline alliance so that I have status on more than one grouping. Doesn’t United understand the adversarial relationship it has fostered between its frequent flyers and the brand? We don’t fly United because we love United. We fly United because we have little choice.
Here is a new, in-flight intro movie I suggest for United: “Hi, I’m Jeff Smisek, CEO of United. Thank you for continuing to have to fly our airline. I want to thank you on behalf of the gambling community we continue to serve for paying all of our high fees and for paying for the Wi-Fi we have been promising for years on the three routes on which we have actually installed it. You will be pleased to know that because of your thick wallets, United has been profitable.”