Ann Coulter just embarked on a personal crusade against Delta. Whereas the thought of heretics in Jerusalem sent millions of Europeans on a march to the East, a reassigned seat sent Ann Coulter on an unrelenting quest to destroy Delta, proudly tweeting images depicting Delta’s falling stock and joking that while United drags passengers off planes, Delta will have to drag passengers on planes. That’s what you get when “you have Social Justice Warriors doing your customer relations!” Even if that were true, I’m sure that many SJWs have nevertheless experienced an unpleasant flight, as have many Americans.
In fact, complaining about airlines is one of our nation’s favorite sports. It is also understandable. You have to wait too long for your bags. You have to wait too long in the TSA line. You have to wait because your flight is delayed. All these annoyances give airlines in the United States a bad reputation. The interesting thing is: these problems equally plague foreign airline companies. But for some reason, airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airlines and Singapore get collectively praised for their customer service. How are they able to avoid the bad reps that haunt US airlines?
Maybe it is because they don’t drag customers off planes like United, or ignite the wrath of Ann
Coulter like Delta, or have their flight attendants hit mothers with babies like American. Perhaps their flight crew is more attentive. The founder of Indian airline Jet Airways once reasoned that European companies could not compete with him on service because of their high union wages. This probably sounds like music to Coulter’s ears: it’s the unions’ fault that she was treated so dismally.
But there may be a more substantial reason: money. Airline companies like Qatar Airways, Norwegian Airlines and Etihad Airways enjoy massive subsidies from their respective governments. This allows them beat US airlines in every price war, and gives them the cash needed to pamper their customers. When you receive headphones, ear plugs, wet wipes or eye masks on a flight, it feels as if the airline is showering you with little gifts. You suddenly forget that you paid for all of it and start thinking of the airline as your generous benefactor.
But money buys more than little “presents.” It buys state-of-the-art aircraft. These brand new Boeing and Airbus planes not only give you a more comfortable flight, they also radiate a sense of “coolness.” Flying has become rather dull. When you first embarked on your flight, it was like a magical experience. The rocketing speed of a plane racing forward on a runway just before take-off, the breathtaking bird’s eye view, the slight distress when the plane starts landing and the relief when it safely hits the ground–flying really ought to be an exhilarating ride.
The excitement of flying
The problem is that we fly too much. The first time you fly is like visiting a haunted house as a kid. It is scary, exciting, thrilling even! Yet when you fly as much as Americans do—2.2 times a year on average—you start feeling like the parent dragged into a haunted house by his or her overeager infant. It’s not scary anymore, only expensive and irritating. This is why brand new planes can boost the popularity of an airline. Suddenly, flying becomes exciting again and the bored parent is transformed into his or her excited child.
The “foreignness” of airlines like Emirates, Qatar and Etihad makes the plane ride even more intriguing. Uninspiring flight attendants have suddenly been replaced by an “exotic” flight staff who introduces you to a form of hospitality that seems fresher and more pleasant than what you have been accustomed to.
Should we feel bad US airlines at this point? Delta certainly seems to think so. While fighting off Coulter’s crusade, Delta itself is crusading against Gulf airline companies, even putting out a video that warns of the aviation industry’s demise if customers continue to fall for Emirates’ luxury aircraft, Qatar’s desirable “free” items and Etihad’s attentive flight staff.
It is understandably frustrating when your competitors are backed by filthy rich governments, but US airlines must not forget that they themselves were subsidized by the US government for many years. Other countries are just catching up. With such head start, US airlines have no right to complain. So when review websites are filled with scathing reviews of United, when one person after the other is relaying their negative experience with JetBlue or when Ann Coulter loses it over a reassigned Delta seat, airline companies have no one to blame but themselves. Especially when Alaska Airlines proves year after year that you don’t need an oil sheik to provide great service. Show your customers respect and dignity, and they will happily write you a positive review.
Image: James McCloskey