It's funny how the big airlines follow each other.

My colleague Chris Matyszczyk has written about this lately, focusing on how the airlines chased each other like falling dominoes, as one after another raised what it charged in baggage fees.

Sure enough, that's exactly what happened:

  • JetBlue went up to $30 on August 28.
  • United matched them on August 31.
  • Delta did the same on September 19.
  • American Airlines followed suit on September 20.

(Absent from the chronology, of course, Southwest Airlines, which doesn't charge baggage fees for up to two bags.)

But it turns out that the airlines follow each other in the opposite direction too, sometimes. When one airline offers a new perk, you can expect that others will jump on the "we do it too!" bandwagon.

Case in point: Free texting.

Alaska Airlines started offering passengers free texting in early 2017, and Delta Airlines followed up with the same thing on September 27, 2017. So it was no surprise that at its media day on September 28 last year, American Airlines announced it would offer the same thing.

"The service, using apps including Apple's iMessage, will be available 'soon' but no timetable was provided," USA Today reported at the time. "The service will be available on flights that have Wi-Fi, but Wi-Fi charges will not apply. American currently charges $5 for in-flight texting, where available. Southwest Airlines charges $2."

And as Gary Leff at View From the Wing points out, several other media organizations gave the airline positive coverage for the announcement. But a year later, a funny thing has happened.

Or perhaps more to the point, hasn't happened.

Because while American is announcing still more on-board features (like live television streaming), it still hasn't implemented the free texting it announced 12 full months ago. 

"Right now we're focusing our investments in other areas such as fast Wi-Fi, power ports and free entertainment including live TV," the airline told Leff when he asked for an explanation this week. "We're re-evaluating the cost and benefits of texting options but don't have a timeline for implementation."

Interesting. It's almost as if having gotten the wave of good stories, there didn't seem to be any real hurry to actually follow through.

Granted, I don't know that anybody would choose one airline over another because it offers free texting. Unlike the race to increase baggage fees, it's not as if this has become a universal policy.

But if you're not making airline choices based purely on price or convenience (for example, I'm not likely to fly American Airlines all that often purely because the airport I live closest to is a United hub), you're making them based on something else.

Feeling, for lack of a better word. Brand affinity. 

And beyond your personal experience, that all comes from the friend-of-a-friend experiences you've heard about, and the viral videos and stories you've seen, and the half-remembered accumulation of impressions suggesting that a particular airline either treats passengers well, or doesn't.

So when you hear a story that says one of the Big Four airlines is offering a new free perk, you might only pay attention for a fraction of a second. But it has an impact, cumulatively, with all those other things you hear.

They're doing this thing for passengers, and so you feel ever so slightly more affinity for them.

Until they don't. And you don't either.

Published on: Sep 22, 2018
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