The Travel Adviser: How to avoid cannibalization

A modest proposal to the airline industry.

EL AL plane 1 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
EL AL plane 1 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Almost 300 hundred years ago, Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, wrote a satirical essay entitled "A Modest Proposal (For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick)." Appalled by the poverty he had encountered daily, he offered an ironic solution - that the poorer members of society offer up their young as food to the wealthier citizens for small sums, thus bettering their wretched state. While the airline industry has not yet reached the stage of cannibalizing their young, each day brings us more and more absurd ways to bring in more money. So, in the spirit of Mr. Swift, I hereby offer my "modest proposal" to assist the airlines and to prevent them from being a burden to their clients. First, here is some background. El Al flies to many cities in dozens of countries throughout the world. Its name is synonymous with both security and service, although not on the same level. It advertises furiously, though I would wager a bet that its name is undoubtedly Israel's number one brand and needs little promotion. Any idea how many cities El Al will be flying to in North America come September 1? (Not only in the United States, but Canada as well.) Three! El Al has made a calculated decision that New York, Toronto and Los Angeles are the only cities on the entire continent to which she will send her planes. Canadians should be concerned. Rumors abound that El Al will be giving up that country as well, but to date this has not been confirmed. Keeping in mind that flights between Israel and North America are the most profitable and competitive routes that El Al offers, its retrenchment boggles the mind. Even mall European Airlines like Austrian find it worthwhile to fly, for example, to Toronto, New York, Chicago and Washington. Larger European airlines double and triple that number. My modest proposal starts with the basic premise: Less is more. • Cutting capacity does not mean cutting cities Airlines are scrambling to close down unprofitable routes. Bully for them. No airline should be forced to fly between two cities that are unprofitable unless subsidized by the government. However, the intelligent airlines have made smart choices by cutting down the frequency of flights rather than dropping the city completely. El Al has ceased flying in the last 12 months to Chicago, Istanbul and Larnaca. Personally, I'm unable to fathom why it would opt out of those markets rather than lessen the frequency. Turkish Airlines, for example, has seen a 200% increase in its flights to and from Istanbul due to El Al's largesse. • Stop giving away the store Clients will pay for quality services. Charging for alcoholic drinks, headsets and satellite TV with pay-per-view movies makes far more economic sense than attempting to charge $15 for a bag. That many US airlines have decided to punish customers who wish to check in a bag is absurd. It's reached the stage where astute passengers try to stuff as much as possible in their carry-on bag in the hope it can be stuffed into the overhead bin. This inevitably results in heated arguments at the gate where attendants are then forced to see if a client's bag meets the requirements. Many years ago, flying ceased to be a fun experience. Security concerns and surly staff were the major causes. However, flying can and should be the last bastion of getting away from the daily pressures of life. Asking me to pay a fee to watch a movie doesn't insult me, as I can choose to decline. Making me pay for an airline to take my checked bag on a transcontinental flight is offensive. • Pay as you go Airlines are finally realizing that their generous policy of making changes on purchased tickets is a fool's paradise. Especially on the lower economy class tickets, airlines have the right to charge a hefty change fee. These fees, whether the client changes the ticket or cancels completely, are pure profit in the airlines coffers. No food to prepare, no staff to compensate, no fuel to consume. The seat can be sold all over again. Most of us drive a car, take the bus or use taxis. The consumer is well aware how high the price of gasoline is, and the papers update us daily with the dire news. Airlines historically make very little money; in fact, investing in airline stocks has always struck me as throwing good money after bad. In this new paradigm, airlines must find ways to make a profit or at least to prevent their losses from mounting. People need to fly, for work or pleasure, simply to get from one point to the other. We are not at the stage, yet, of eat or be eaten. So before the airlines propose cannibalizing, send me your suggestions on how to improve the airline's bottom line. Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at [email protected]