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Readers Tell Airlines How to Improve

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Airport -  Crowded check-in area (Photo: Houston Airport System)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on December 23, 2009. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, airport, baggage, booking strategy, legroom, low-cost airline, Sarah Pascarella, security, taxes and fees.

We all know that air travel is less than ideal nowadays, and that travelers have plenty to gripe about. But while it's fun to complain with fellow readers (proving misery really does love company), it's not all that productive in bringing about positive change. That's why we recently asked you to suggest some examples of how the airlines can improve, with simple solutions that can make the skies friendly again. You came up with some great ideas on what airlines can do to make air travel better not just for you, but also for many of your fellow travelers.

If you like some of the suggestions below, or have an innovative improvement idea of your own, share your thoughts with us by submitting a comment. Even better—go one step further and contact your preferred airline, the Department of Transportation, and your congressional representatives. Working together, consumers can be catalysts for real change.

Read on to see the highlights of your airline industry improvement recommendations.

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Ticketing

"We need one price to fly from point A to point B," says reader Keith McKenzie. "The current system of base fares, taxes, fees, and bag fees are a feeble attempt of sales through deception. Is it any wonder why travelers flock to Southwest?"

"Nothing alienates me more than paying to check baggage, especially when I travel with just one normal-sized bag that is within weight limits," says DonSFO. "I suggest that the air carriers adopt a complimentary one bag per passenger policy, and charge only for overweight or additional pieces of luggage."

"I'd rather have fees rolled into the base price of a ticket than worry about paying an extra $20 for luggage, $5-$10 for food, and $7 for a blanket or pillow," says optinyc. "I'd pay an extra $30-$50 round-trip just to know what we're getting these services for 'free.'"

To get your tickets, reader Jim offers a small-scale tip that would save a lot of time. "Allow people traveling to print both sets of tickets (going and returning) before they leave home. Maybe set a time frame on the length of travel, say, five days or a week."

Or, "online check-in boarding passes should be usable from a customer's cell phone," says reader Anthony Langford. "This would allow you to check in even if you don't have a printer available. Your smartphone can pull up the online check-in pass."

With these suggested changes, travelers wouldn't have to worry about finding a place to check in online while on the road or have to wait in line for a kiosk or check-in desk once they get to the airport.

Scheduling

In terms of scheduling flights, the airlines need to "decide on what they are doing and stick with it," says Sarge74. "We booked two round-trip flights from Detroit to San Juan [for] January 2010. We have had our flight times, numbers, and seats changed three times already, and we still have a month and a half to go. It's sometimes hard to plan with that degree of uncertainty."

MaryMonica wants further transparency at the airport, especially when schedules are affected by weather and the like. "Tell the truth when there is a delay," she says. "If the airline really doesn't know how much time a repair will require, say so instead of making incremental 30-minute announcements that soon add up to hours ... Don't estimate when your connection will arrive if it is grounded in the city of origination due to weather."

In the case of cancellations, susan60 requests greater accommodations from the airlines. "If an airline cancels a flight, the airline should be required to rebook that passenger," she says. "Case in point: Six months ago, 13 of us booked flights ... for February 2010. We have each been informed, gradually over the past three weeks, that all [our] flights to Acapulco have been canceled. Only one of us was offered alternate flights. The rest of us are now stuck trying to rebook on another airline at this late date for much higher fares."

Finally, for travelers making connecting flights (often on tight schedules), several readers wrote in and requested priority deplaning in order to catch their next flight. "If a passenger has a really tight connection to make, let them get off first," says Sam56. "This happened to me once in Salt Lake City and it made it possible for me to make the connecting flight."

Customer Service

Our readers stressed that good customer service goes a long way, from the first ticket transaction to interactions at the airport and on the plane.

Lareefun says, "Stop treating passengers as cattle ... Please treat us as people who are providing you with an income and a livelihood instead of another chore to get you through the day until you can clock out and go home. Treating passengers as people empowers both the passenger and the people working for the airlines [and provides] a better travel experience for everyone."

"The major U.S. airlines can increase passengers, passenger comfort, and their income by following the examples of Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America," says reader Stanley Sizeler. "Checked bags free, ample free in-flight snacks, pleasant and helpful flight attendants and ticket counter staff, easy ticket exchanges."

These days, customer service can go a long way toward loyalty. Several readers wrote in saying the airlines that have treated them the best are continually rewarded with their business, and that they will never again fly with airlines with which they had negative customer service experiences. Airlines, take note—treating your customers respectfully isn't just good courtesy, it can also boost your bottom line.

In-Cabin Comforts

Seat width and pitch came up quite often, and many of you agree—airplane cabins are cramped at best, downright uncomfortable at worst. A few of you indicated you're willing to pay more for a better seat product.

Reader Jeremy Bloss suggests that window-seat armrests be moveable. "That would gain wider-hip people about three inches of space without encroaching on anyone else," he says.

Many of you also cited unnecessary boarding and deplaning delays resulting from stowing carry-on bags, and suggested a more uniform policy for both passengers and attendants. "The airlines should start enforcing the size limits on carry-on bags and enforce the rules that allow only one large carry-on bag per passenger," says reader Kathy Maguire. "I get tired standing around when boarding or deplaning while a few inconsiderate passengers try to force a too-large bag into the overhead bins or pull two to three bags out while everyone else waits."

"Make cabin attendants adhere to carry-on limits and store their bags at the rear of the plane," says 77Hill. "Attendants ... virtually always store [their bags] at the front of the plane. This means passengers at the front have to store their bags at the back because overheads are full, thus blocking others entering the plane. Upon landing, they must crawl to the back of the plane, again delaying the deboarding process. Since attendants are supposed to exit the plane last, arrivals and departures could be speeded considerably by making this procedural change."

"Why not board people in the back first, in groups of six to eight?" says barknorr. "Alternatively, board window seats first, then middle, then aisle. The zones approach is quite flawed. There's always someone who stops the flow."

Finally, several readers asked for widespread in-flight wireless Internet access and seatback television sets. Entertainment truly keeps passengers occupied—and thus makes the flight go by faster for everyone!

Your Turn

What other improvements should the airlines implement? Share your recommendations by leaving a comment below!

Read comments or add your own insight!
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