If you’ve ever had such a horrible flight that you promised you’d never fly that airline again, then this is your year to follow through. Make a New Year’s resolution you can keep: Let’s boycott bad airlines.
Jenny Lehman did. In 2002, after enduring numerous delays without apology or compensation, she decided to add American Airlines to her personal no-fly list.
“The employees acted like they enjoyed our misery,” she recalls. “It was a kick-’em-while-they’re-down mentality.”
Lehman, a college professor in Portland, Oregon, took her business to Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Delta Air Lines. If American was her only choice, she drove.
Does boycotting bad airlines work?
But does boycotting an airline work?
A recent survey by Rasmussen Reports concluded that just over half of Americans believe boycotts are effective. (Whether they are is something of an open question, since it’s difficult to agree on how to measure their effectiveness.) Still, you’ll never know if you don’t try, and it seems Americans don’t try.
Travelers feel powerless to change an airline’s passenger policies. With customer service scores circling the drain, many feel that a boycott would achieve nothing. After all, we’re down to only a handful of major air carriers in the United States. Do we even have a choice?
Are you at the end of your rope?
“Somehow, it’s become acceptable for corporations to take advantage of the very people who keep them in business, the customers,” says Robert Smith, a business development professional and a frequent air traveler currently based in Costa Rica. “The corporate culture itself is broken, greedy, negative and uncaring.”
Smith says he’s added United Airlines, which he describes as “one of the worst companies in the country,” to his no-fly list because of poor customer service.
Have you reached your breaking point yet? What’s it going to take before you say, “Enough!” Another delay? A deceptive fee? Another policy that renders your ticket or frequent flier miles worthless?
Never want to fly an airline again? First, find a replacement
Ready to boycott? Not so fast. First, you’ll need a substitute. Finding a better airline may be a tall order. For example, when Air Canada accidentally sent Nick Galov’s luggage to China, it left him frustrated.
“Air Canada didn’t offer any compensation, not even a coupon or voucher of sorts,” recalls Galov, the co-founder of the review site Review42.com. “I had to wear the same clothes for a few days and even rent a suit for a meeting which went out of my pocket.”
But practically speaking, Air Canada was often his only choice when flying to Canada. So he decided on a soft boycott.
“I will avoid Air Canada in the future the next time I fly north,” he says.
Here’s the problem: The four major carriers control more than 80% of the market in the United States. To make your blacklist work, you have to cobble together a transportation strategy that includes driving, trains, smaller airlines and simple avoidance – as in, staying home.
So what’s stopping you from boycotting bad airlines?
Airlines are smart. They know that you’d rather stay home than fly with them. So they create incentives to lure you on board. Airlines like American, Air Canada and United have addictive loyalty programs that override the rational part of your brain. You see all the miles you’ll earn, and it quickly makes you forget about what you’ll have to endure.
But the rewards can be considerable. What if you cut up your loyalty program card and found some other way to reach your destination? What if a few of your fellow passengers joined you? We just might see airlines change a little.
Can you imagine flying on an airline where flight attendants take care of you? Or where you’re not being charged for everything, including those ridiculous seat-selection fees? A boycott may not be able to fix all that’s wrong about air travel, but it could make it more bearable.
Lehman, the college professor who boycotted American, says her efforts have cost the airline $36,000 in lost business over 17 years. It’s not a lot, but imagine if every disgruntled airline passenger did the same thing. That’s economic power.
Boycott bad airlines. Now that’s a New Year’s resolution worth keeping.
Airlines flyers rate poorly
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Spirit has the worst reputation with flyers with a score of 63 out of 100. Here are the airlines with the worst customer service, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. (Scores are on a scale of 1-100.)
Spirit Airlines (63)
Frontier Airlines (64)
United Airlines (70)
Allegiant Airlines (71)
American Airlines (74)
Delta Air Lines (75)