US Airways throws in the towel. Score one for the customer!

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I got this email from US Airways today:

“On March 1, we’re bringing back free drinks in our Coach cabin. This includes sodas, juices, tea, coffee and water on all US Airways and US Airways Express flights.
We believe in our pay-for-what-you-choose-to-use – or “a la carte” – business model, but it’s a work-in-progress. We are committed to remaining competitive and that’s the main reason we have decided to bring back free drinks.
You still have the choice to only pay for the things you want – like checked bags, Choice Seats or First Class upgrades. And, those services will continue to be free for our Preferred members”

Note the grudging acceptance that this reversal of policy is being prompted by competitive pressure, not by any desire to offer more value to the customer. However, this is still a relief and a victory, albeit minor, for long suffering US Airways customers, especially “preferred” ones like me, who when we are not upgraded have to fork over a dollar to get a cup of water. This was always a silly policy for an airline that claims to be a “full service” airline. Perhaps good, consistent customer service will follow? Or does that have to await competitive pressure as well? Will the peanuts and pretzels be restored as well, or is it just the liquids?

Airlines in the United States have been on a race to the bottom when it comes to customer service, ever since deregulation some thirty years ago. The post 9/11 environment exacerbated this trend and has made domestic airline travel an activity that only a masochist can look forward to. Now, US Airways has shown that competitive pressure can actually to reverse some of this degradation in service. The only thing that is needed is some good old fashioned competition.

Which brings up an interesting issue. Why is it that the US airline industry is shielded from foreign competition? Why are foreign carriers not permitted to buy significant stakes in US carriers or start new services between domestic airports? What happened to all the talk of free skies treaties between us and other countries?

Now that my free drinks have been restored, I am starting to dream…of courteous service, clean planes and pretzels and peanuts!

Naras Eechambadi, Ph.D
Dr. Naras Eechambadi is the founder and CEO of Quaero, a world-class data management and analytics platform empowering enterprises to integrate, discover and democratize their customer data. He is a life-long technologist and entrepreneur with over three decades in the software products and services industry. He has been awarded numerous distinctions as both a marketing executive and entrepreneur. Naras is also the author of a critically acclaimed book, High Performance Marketing: Bringing Method to the Madness of Marketing.

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