What If Airlines Really Wanted to Make You Happy? A New Year's Resolution Fantasy

Last Updated Dec 29, 2010 9:02 AM EST

We all know New Year's Resolutions are made to be broken, and the airline industry is no slouch when it comes to disappointing us. But give them the benefit of the doubt: Maybe they need help writing those resolutions. We're happy to help.

Truth in pricing
Every airline boasts that they've got the best prices right there on their official websites, so why bother with those other booking sites. Really? You can probably write your own examples, and here are two of mine:

  • When I looked for a coach ticket recently on the US Airways site, the best they could do on the shuttle from La Guardia to D.C. was a whopping $296 each way! For nearly $600 round trip, it's cheaper to fly to Paris! Over at Orbitz.com I found the exact same flights for $51 each way.
  • The lowest price I saw on americanairways.com for a round trip between Los Angeles and New York was $758. But then I called the American 800 number and talked to -- shocker! -- a HUMAN BEING. She volunteered that American was matching Virgin America's fares on some flights. I got to New York for $238 round trip!
The stakes are only going up. American Airlines just fired the first big salvo in trying to regain price control; it will no longer display prices and sell tickets through Orbitz Worldwide. Delta has pulled inventory from three smaller online travel agencies. This is likely to lead to less competition and higher prices for consumers and to other steps by the industry that will ultimately harm business travel.
Resolution for airline management: "We will live up to our statements about prices, make pricing transparent and allow the humans we employ to guide customers to the best deal. Or we will expect customers not to trust us."

Truth in scheduling
Ask any airport authority how many planes can take off from a runway in any given hour (and that assumes perfect weather) and they'll tell you: 22. So why are the airlines allowed to schedule as many as 34 takeoffs in an hour? This isn't rocket science. The airlines want to be competitive on official schedules -- but end up looking stupid. And that stupidity costs everyone.

Resolution for airport operators: "We will publish runway limits, and enforce them."

De-icing madness

If you get spend a day or two stuck at an airport in this week's blizzard, your last de-icing delay may seem trivial. Until the next one, and the next. You board the plane, then sit there while the aircraft is de-iced. This is essential for safety, of course, but the system makes no sense. The de-icing is done before the plane leaves the gate. And then what happens? The plane slowly taxis to the end of a long conga line of other planes and waits. By the time it's No. 2 or 3 for takeoff, enough ice has accumulated on flight surfaces that the plane has to return to the gate and start the de-icing process all over again. How wasteful.

Another resolution for the airports: "We will take over this service, construct de-icing stations near ends of runways (something like a carwash) and everything will work much more smoothly. Fewer delays, less fuel burnt, and fewer toxic chemicals used."

Jetway disposal

You know this problem too well, but you may not have guessed that there's an incredibly simple solution. You're on a flight that's actually on time, you land at your destination and then you wait 45 minutes for an open jetway. Th answer to this one is already available. Every airplane is equipped with an a communications system knows as the ACARS system. From the moment any plane pushes back from its gate, the ACARS transmits to the airline's operations department the exact pushback time, and within a minute or two, the exact arrival time at the destination. There are no surprises, then, in the cockpit, in the operations department, or at the arrival airport.

So why does your plane have to wait for a gate? Herewith, the back to the future solution, in two words: portable stairs! We don't need your stinking jetway. Every airport has penalty boxes about 150 feet behind every other jetway where planes can park. Just wheel up the portable stairs, and let us off the plane!

I've asked five airline CEOs why they don't do this and not one has given me an answer.

So here's a resolution for them: "We will jettison the jetways, making sure passengers and their bags make their connections. We'll save fuel, reduce delays, and cut down on customer and staff rebellions."

Here's hoping.


Holiday Travelers: 6 Tips to Bypass Delays
American vs. Orbitz: How the Fight Could Change Travel Sales

How to Avoid All Those Extra Airline Fees