Ready to fly again? Voyage into the unknown

Ready to fly again? Voyage into the unknown

It will be a while before smart people trust the airlines to have safety first over profits.

Still, an increasing number of travelers are braving the skies again, according to  TSA checkpoint counts.

Then this week the airlines said they would jump on the mask bandwagon and strictly enforce face coverings during flights. Yet, this conjures up past broken promises, such as pledges to block middle seats. The airlines’ inconsistency is upsetting to flyers concerned about virus exposure in tight confines.

Passengers are also annoyed at seeing almost entirely open seat maps when booking – but because the airlines are canceling and consolidating so many flights – their aircraft is packed at take off, making social distancing difficult.

Haphazard COVID-19 guidelines

Many US carriers are saying passengers who refuse to wear masks in-flight without a valid reason will be restricted from future flights on the airline. The length of time on the no-fly list will be determined by the incident. JetBlue and Hawaiian already had a program in place to put non-compliant passengers on their own airline no-fly list.

A survey by consulting firm Oliver Wyman found cleanliness at airports and on airplanes affects their decision to travel. Masks are one perception of airline cleanliness, while seeing unmasked passengers is a danger flag to many travelers or potential travelers.

Another of the airline industry’s contribution to fighting COVID-19 is no longer serving food or drinks during the flight. This change may stay for a long time with no reduction in fares, as the airlines will make more profit and appear to be helping passengers.

Slow-Walking Refunds

Not long ago, US airlines received a $50 billion bailout from taxpayers, yet still are failing to provide refunds after customers were forced to change, or outright cancel, their summer trips.

Travelers are finding it takes weeks, months or never for airlines and booking sites to refund their money.

Customers are legally entitled to ask for their money back. But many have been stuck in a holding pattern chasing the cash.

Even the world’s biggest airlines are behaving badly – doing everything they can to avoid refunding money. British Airways had a system where, if you want a voucher rather than a refund, you just click a button. But if you wanted a refund, you had to phone a number, which went unanswered.

On the cheaper flights, some customers are taking their chances with a voucher. But on the higher value flights and vacations it’s a bit ‘chicken and egg’. If you accept a voucher, and not a refund, the worry is the voucher may not be honored, or the airline may file for bankruptcy protection and you’ll be left as just another creditor.

Yes, the airlines are in trouble, but on the other hand consumers have their own money troubles and don’t know when they’ll be able to fly again.

How much cash is owed to passengers for canceled flights? The industry group IATA says global airlines are liable for $35 billion in refunds for tickets sold but not flown, which is putting considerable cash-flow pressure on the airlines.

Rumors of American Airlines on the brink of bankruptcy swirled a few weeks ago, and Lufthansa was saved by a bailout from the German government.

Credit Card Remedy

Everyone can ask their credit card company for their money back, and the credit card companies will, in turn, demand the money en bloc from the airlines.

There are large swathes of travelers who have struggled, been refused refunds, were offered vouchers or can’t get through to the airlines at all.

So, they go to their credit card companies because there are systems in place where customers can get a full refund – and it seems to be getting better and easier.

Customers are annoyed they cant get through to airlines travel agencies on the phone and their refunds are rejected – however, under Department of Transportation regulations, you are entitled to a full refund for canceled flights, even on nonrefundable tickets.

Loyalty Programs 

Naturally, if you’re going to be downgraded from one tier to another, it will affect the quality of your business travel in the future.

This is not an immediate problem because many of us aren’t traveling on business at the moment. But some airlines, such as British Airways, have something called a “soft landing” where they downgrade you by one level.

American Airlines, Qantas, Singapore, and others have basically extended their members’ frequent flyer statuses for one year. So, if you were a gold card holder, or silver card holder, you just get another year automatically.

Others, like British Airways say if you get to the end of the year and you haven’t been able to fly because of Covid-19, tough luck! You will get downgraded by one level.

Frequent Flyer status is not, in the grand scheme of things, a very important issue in the world today, but it does tell us something about airlines approach to customer loyalty.

The airlines should be thinking, one day people going to be able to travel again and we want our loyal customers to come back, we want them to have a warm feeling about us.

It doesn’t cost the airline very much to extend members’ status for a year – but it does enhance customer loyalty.


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