Elliott is a customer advocacy website and keeps track of its grievances filed. In June 2017, there were 30 complaints against American Airlines. A month later, that number doubled to 60. So while American may be doing well economically, its reputation is going down.
Usually, when a business's reputation suffers, so does its revenue. However, this clearly isn't the case. According to the AA Newsroom, strong demand and improving yields recently drove a 2.0 percent increase in total revenue, to $9.6 billion.
Issues American Travelers Face
Overbookings are common, delays run rampant, and bags get lost. Airport security lines and gates are a mess. Inflight amenities aren't much to speak of, and often come with extra cost.
Legroom inches shrink, you hear these kinds of horror stories about how ticketed passengers are being treated... is it a surprise that travelers don't feel valued anymore?
The Big Four
Customers are suffering, but the airlines aren't. This is partially due to the fact that they have their places in the skies assured. There's an oligopoly (that is, a near-monopoly) composed of four major airlines that control 75% of the American skies today: Delta, United, American, and Southwest. As a result of various mergers, customers are now left with less choice and are required to cough up astronomical fees for services that used to be free.
Deregulation in the United States
In 1978, the American Act of Deregulation was passed, which allowed for carriers to be more independent with flights and controls. Unfortunately, the effects nearly forty years later aren't so rosy.
"The consequences of deregulation have been very adverse," said former CEO of American Airlines Robert Crandall in 2008. "Our airlines, once world leaders, are now laggards in every category, including fleet age, service quality and international reputation...Passenger complaints have skyrocketed. Airline service, by any standard, has become unacceptable."
Deregulation in the European Union
Contrast this with Europe's performance. A 1997 deregulation allowed for a multitude of new airlines to serve the public. This increase in competition not only allowed for the new budget airlines to lower prices, but also forced the original carriers to drop their prices to compete. This deregulation also led to an upsurge in a considerable number of new routes around Europe, allowing travelers to fly more often and more conveniently.
The European Model
Many years after deregulation was implemented in both continents, flying within America remains a huge hassle, while across the pond it's nearly as easy as taking a train. But why?
In Europe, low-cost carriers fly into smaller, alternate airports instead of main ones, thus avoiding connections and baggage loss, as well as reducing delays. In the US, the hub-and-spoke model is more common. Hub airports are larger, serving more flights and airlines - thus, more chaotic.
European carriers take a minimalist approach. Take Ryanair as a model: carry-on sizes are restricted, no on-screen entertainment is used, and chairs don't recline. Only one airplane model is used, reducing training costs for employees. These are just small examples of how Ryanair effectively cuts costs to be able to provide such cheap fares.
Enrique Fonseca, a political YouTuber at VisualPolitik, has input. "Ryanair has helped create that sense of European integration, more than any other policy. Prior to them, a Madrid-Rome flight, for instance, was a trip you would do for your honeymoon. Now, people go on weekend trips to Brussels, Dublin or any other city. And EU politicians recognize that this helps contribute to a more united European feeling."
Are the Airlines On Our Side?
Southwest spokesperson Chris Mainz says yes. "We like to say that we are in the customer service business -- we just happen to fly airplanes. Our track record over 46 years is well-known for offering world-class customer service with low fares. That's our brand promise to our customers, and we've delivered consistently throughout our history...most importantly, our employees treat our customers like guests in our home, with warm smiles and world-class hospitality."
There's Light Ahead
Southwest serves as a stellar example of making it a priority to provide what customers crave most: the human touch.
It's the government's priority, too. The DOT recently launched a web page informing passengers of their basic rights. And if airlines don't step up their game, they face serious legislation. Bill Shuster said during the House Transportation Committee hearing in May "If airlines don't get their act together, we are going to act; it is going to be one size fits all. Seize this opportunity because if you don't, we're going to come, and you're not going to like it."
United responded fast, agreeing to implement better policies. It's good to know that change is occurring. Let's usher it in. After all, the sky's the limit.
**Liba Rimler contributed to this article.