Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Who are airlines' real customers?

This might sound like a slightly daft question, but the more you hear from airline executives, the more you might want to delve into finding the right answer.

With certain airlines, you can't help thinking that their real customers aren't the people who fly in their planes at all.

Instead, they're simply pandering to the greasily dressed, slimily mouthed money-peddlers on Wall Street.

Which inevitable brings us to American Airlines.

The large carrier tends to talk about its financial efficiencies with more joy than it talks about, well, human beings. 

This was clear just a couple of weeks ago when executives from Delta and American talked to the same financial types.

Delta talked about its culture. American talked about investments.

This week, American Airlines' CEO Doug Parker gave another pungent example of his approach to his customers.

As Bloomberg reported, Parker expounding his thoughts to a business group in Irving, Texas.

Specifically, he addressed the fear that Congress might limit airlines' ability to charge nasty, mean-spirited fees. 

Those dastardly change fees, for example, which airlines love to charge on non-refundable fares. 

Parker enthused that he would never, ever support the idea that his airline allow passengers who bought non-refundable tickets to change their flights for free. He'd prefer it if his airline no longer offered non-refundable fares. Or, perhaps, that passengers just forfeit the money.

He said: 

That non-refundable ticket is of value to us. We knew that seat was going to be filled. It allowed us to do other things. We sold the rest of the airplane knowing that seat was going to be filled.

Well, yes. But a seat will still be filled on some different day or time by that same passenger who paid. That passenger will also pay the difference between the two fares.

That's not good enough for Parker -- and many other airline executives. 

He insists that charging, say, $200 plus the difference in fares is perfectly reasonable. 

Oddly, he didn't seem to address how often the airline manages to sell that suddenly empty seat anyway.

And sometimes for more money than the original purchaser paid.

Naturally, on Saturday Congress chose not to upset Parker and his cohorts. It decided not to force airline fees to be "reasonable and proportional."

Then again, Southwest Airlines seems to do alright without change fees and baggage fees. Is it such a bad airline? It seems to inspire quite some loyalty among passengers.

Parker, though, believes choosing Southwest is like flying "the cattle car."

This is, apparently, part of American's strategy of Going for Great

Perhaps American doesn't have the confidence and imagination required to build a brand that inspires customer loyalty.

It seems to have decided that a broad network is its main attraction, while making customers feel good is but a pointless exercise in pandering to consistently ungrateful humans.

Well, as long as he pleases Wall Street, eh? Those people are always grateful.

Published on: Sep 23, 2018