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  March 2nd, 2023 | Written by

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

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Rena Davenport, CEO of Exquisite Air Charter, discusses different angles on the price that customers are paying for the mishandling of commercial airlines, and, in contrast, how business aviation’s standards separate from this reality.

Commercial aviation inefficiency is the new normal. There, I said it. While you can make the case that the daily mishandling of the travel experience by global carriers dates back a decade or so, I’ll play nice and provide some domino-effect facts that started to loom in mid-2022, when the travel recovery after the pandemic and opening borders evidenced the sheer lack of preparedness of the entire industry.

During the initial stages of the pandemic, airlines had that unprecedented moment to blame for the mounting cancellations, lack of information, and dreadful customer support. To be fair, health authorities and governments weren’t as clear as we would’ve wanted, as they also were trying to make sense of the situation. 

Fast forward a little over two years, the summer of 2022, and the crowded airports and cancellations worldwide once the travel recovery picked up made me think about the golden opportunity airlines had to reset their operations and inefficiencies when no one was traveling during the pandemic. 

Different challenges were at the root cause of the problem, yet airlines found a way to frame the situation and shift the blame. Unable to meet the rising demand in bookings during that summer season, they blamed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for delays, while the FAA said airlines were flying schedules they couldn’t support. Pilots, on the other hand, pointed fingers at airlines for increased workloads they stated could result in safety issues. 

The inability to support flying schedules is an interesting claim because it goes well beyond the pilot shortage debate, which is also an underlying issue today – flight attendants, ground handlers, and baggage handlers are also scarce at airports, with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reporting that airlines have lost or mishandled 21% more bags than in previous years.

The blame game

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

At this pace, regular commercial travelers might find it more convenient to drive to closer destinations by car, even if the ride lasts up to 5 hours – that sounds much better than waiting hours in check-in lines and potentially having the flight canceled.

While it might be too late to get their act together before the end of winter, as the recent Southwest debacle showed, the industry will need to find ways to tighten up its operations before the start of summer; eliminating the blaming game while searching for common ground and attainable solutions should be a priority between both private and public actors. 

What is the 2023 outlook? According to a recent IATA forecast, travel recovery hints at reduced losses and expects profit this year, with airlines projected to post a small net profit of $4.7 billion –a 0.6% net profit margin. It’s the first profit since 2019. That’s great, but at what cost? Apparently, for now, at the passenger’s expense. 

Business aviation thrived under the spotlight

In contrast, business aviation demonstrated to the world that it was prepared to deliver quality service throughout the pandemic, 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 perceived differently today. How do I know? Well, we constantly engage with our customers and especially with first-time flyers that fled from the airline’s grasp. 

For them the industry works as a time machine, a consistent tool that enables them to control the travel experience, reducing uncertainties while spending more time with the family – “there’s no going back once you try private”, I was recently told. And I fully agree. This is not to say that we didn’t have challenges of our own – like availability issues due to increased demand and a lag in new business aircraft entering the market. The big difference is that we didn’t make an excuse and tried to find safe solutions to deliver a consistent service.

A shift in consumer behavior has occurred and every experienced and trustworthy business aircraft provider has recognized this change while trying to reduce any gaps within customer expectations and service. That’s where the business aviation industry thrives, putting the passenger ahead of everything and adapting to their needs like no other service. That’s our most precious asset and everyone involved in this fascinating industry needs to always put the interest of the customer above, always following safety protocols and standards and in tight coordination with authorities.

In conclusion, airlines had a golden opportunity to reorganize their operations and inefficiencies that were ever-present before Covid-19, and yet here we are again. If a pandemic can’t force airlines to get their act together, what on earth will?