The USA Today travel blog reported this morning:
The story of a Canadian musician whose guitar was allegedly damaged by United baggage handlers at Chicago O'Hare had become one of the most-talked-about aviation stories on the Web this week. Now, after going viral online, the story also has gone mainstream. The Chicago Tribune, U.S. national TV networks and a bevy of Canadian papers are among those to pick up the story during the past day. The move shows just how quickly the Internet can help a disgruntled customer can turn the tables on a company and its effort to manage its public image.The posting about Dave Carroll and his YouTube retaliation links to stories in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago-Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times and Ottawa Citizen, while the story has also been covered by CNN, bloggers and many other sources. United is acknowledging the black eye on its Twitter feed.
When I was flying to Tokyo every few months and up to SFO almost monthly in the 1990s, I was very loyal to United. However the airline has gone down the toilet the last 4-5 years. It’s not clear whether it’s the unions, the forced givebacks, or tight management controls of every penny, but (as Carroll documents) it’s no longer a customer-focused service business.
Alas, this is not limited to United. Most of the major US carriers (possibly excepting Continental) see passengers as a revenue source to be milked and not a customer to be served.
So while Web 2.0 methods may be the feel-good consumer story of the year, all the modern methods of criticizing (or responding) to lousy customer service are not going to fix the industry’s structural problems. Chasing each possible cost savings, the once premium major carriers are eventually going to end up providing Ryanair-quality service, while Southwest and Jet Blue stick to their respective visions of airline travel.