By now, you’ve heard that American Airlines is planning to cram more people into its next generation of 737s (why there is a new generation of a 50-year-old airplane deserves a story of its own).
This means about an inch less between each seat in economy class. It’s not a huge difference. And neither is shrinking from 29 to 30. Except when you add them all up. Little by little, the space allotted to each passenger shrinks. This makes every plane and every flight more profitable, and there is literally no stone that publicly traded airlines won’t overturn for more profit; some of it works well and is barely noticeable, like that story you may have heard about how an airline removed one olive from its inflight meals to save money. Other methods, like shrinking each passenger’s already tiny bit of personal space, incite all sorts of online outrage (I know, what doesn’t these days?).
In this move, American Airlines will please nobody but its shareholders. Its passengers won’t be happy, but they’ll keep flying anyway if the price remains right. And in some cases, they wouldn’t have much of a choice, anyway.
Think of people flying out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: American Airlines has a hub here. Our only other real choice is Southwest Airlines – and for me, that’s not even an option because they have no intercontinental destinations nor alliances that can allow me to earn miles for the big trips I like so much. Delta and United don’t have many flights that work well for my needs. So I’m stuck.
My big hopes are Alaska Airlines and JetBlue. I keep hoping that Alaska and its acquisition of Virgin America results in an airline with a different ethos, but a route system that can rival my other options out of Sky Harbor. I keep hoping the same for JetBlue. Alaska and JetBlue have enthusiastic customers, and I’d like to be one of them. They may be publicly traded like American Airlines and all the other big guys, but they seem to walk a good balance of shareholder profit and customer satisfaction. And they’re also very good about not killing pet rabbits, dragging customers off planes, hitting passengers with strollers, crushing guitars or letting Kenny G roam the cabin tooting on his sax – and I seriously don’t know which of these is the worst … I mean Kenny f-ing G! I understand the need to turn a profit. But there’s also a tipping point.
American Airlines still seems to skew toward the shareholders. They’re also shrinking operations at Sky Harbor (Sky Harbor employees are in deep denial of the importance of the drop in traffic). This is clearly an opportunity for another airline to gain traction at an airport in one of the 10 largest metro areas in the nation. You can bet Sky Harbor would be eager, and the air travelers who use Sky Harbor would be grateful for options.
I’m sure that’s just as true in other airports and cities with limited choices. Despite the in-flight announcements that say “we know you have a choice,” the truth is that we really don’t if we live outside a major hub like LA, New York or Houston. The airline that steps up to offer a viable and better choice could really shift the conversation. C’mon, Alaska or JetBlue … be that airline.