The Blame Game: When Will Commercial Airlines get their Act Together? 

Rena Davenport, CEO of Excellent air charterdiscusses different perspectives on the price customers pay for mistreating commercial airlines, and, in contrast, how corporate aviation standards differ from this reality.

Inefficiency in commercial aviation is the new normal. There, I said it. While you could argue that the daily mistreatment of the travel experience by global airlines dates back about a decade, I’ll play nice and give some domino effect facts that started to emerge in mid-2022, when the post-pandemic travel recovery and the opening of the borders showed the sheer lack of preparedness of the entire industry.

During the early stages of the pandemic, airlines had that unprecedented moment where they blamed increasing cancellations, lack of information and terrible customer support. To be honest, the health authorities and governments have not been as clear as we would have liked as they also tried to understand the situation.

Fast-forward a little over two years, the summer of 2022, and the overcrowded airports and cancellations worldwide once the travel recovery kicked in, made me think about the golden opportunity airlines had to reset operations and inefficiencies when no one was traveling during the pandemic used to be.

Several challenges were at the root of the problem, but airlines found a way to frame the situation and shift the blame. Unable to meet the rising demand for bookings during that summer season, they blamed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for delays, while the FAA said airlines had flight schedules they could not support. Pilots, on the other hand, pointed the finger at airlines for increased workloads that they say could lead to safety problems.

The inability to support flight schedules is an interesting claim because it goes far beyond the pilot shortage debate, which is also an underlying problem these days — flight attendants, ground handlers, and baggage handlers are also in short supply at airports, with the U.S. Department of Transportation ( DOT) reporting that airlines lost or mishandled 21% more luggage than in previous years.

The blame game

Is there a solution? Senator Bernie Sanders thinks the DOT should start fining airlines for disrupted flights, while the DOT is considering imposing financial consequences on airlines that publish unrealistic flight schedules. Rules and regulations may force airlines to show they can operate flights with the right staff before they are allowed to schedule them, which could be a mid-term solution.

At this rate, ordinary commercial travelers may find it more convenient to drive to closer destinations, even if the drive is up to 5 hours – that sounds much better than waiting in check-in lines for hours and potentially canceling the flight.

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Though it may be too late to get their act together before the end of winter like the recent one Southwest debacle showed that before the start of summer, the industry must find ways to tighten up its activities; eliminating the blame game and seeking common grounds and viable solutions should be a priority between both private and public actors.

What are the prospects for 2023? According to a recent IATA forecast, the recovery in travel signals reduced losses and expect profits this year, with airlines expected to post a small net profit of $4.7 billion – a net profit margin of 0.6%. It is the first profit since 2019. That’s great, but at what price? Apparently at the expense of the passenger for the time being.

Business aviation flourished in the spotlight

Business aviation, on the other hand, showed the world its willingness to provide quality service during the pandemic by operating repatriation flights, humanitarian missions and urgent medical flights. It maximized its time in the spotlight when all commercial airlines were grounded, to the point that the industry is viewed differently today. How should I know that? Well, we are in a constant dialogue with our customers and especially with first-time flyers who have fled the airline’s clutches.

For them, the industry works like a time machine, a consistent tool that allows them to control the travel experience, reduce uncertainties and spend more time with family. And I totally agree. This is not to say that we did not face challenges ourselves, such as availability issues due to increased demand and delays in bringing new corporate jets to market. The big difference is that we didn’t make excuses and tried to find safe solutions to deliver a consistent service.

There has been a shift in consumer behavior and every experienced and reliable corporate jet provider has recognized this change while seeking to close any gaps in customer expectations and service. That’s where the business aviation industry thrives, putting the passenger first and adapting to their needs like no other service. That is our most precious asset and everyone involved in this fascinating industry must always put the best interests of the customer above, always following safety protocols and standards and working closely with the authorities.

In short, airlines had a golden opportunity to reorganize their operations and inefficiencies that were always present before Covid-19, and yet here we are again. If a pandemic can’t force airlines to get their act together, then what the hell?

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