On a recent trip I had the fortune and misfortune to experience 2 extremes in a service experience. On my trip I flew to a conference in Orlando with Continental Airlines. I had great service, I was comfortable, the Continental Staff on board were helpful and happy. When I arrived in Orlando, despite travelling all day I actually remarked to my wife what a wonderful experience that was and that we should definitely make a point of trying Continental again.
Fast forward a week, our itinerary said AIR CANADA flight XXXX so when we reached the airport we went to the Air Canada Desk. We were already a little worried because we had tried to check in online the night before and it had said there was a problem and we were unable to check in and print our boarding passes. At the Air Canada desk we stood in line for 10-15 minutes with a bunch of other people, all the while starting to get a little more concerned. With everyone going on about get to the airport early etc you would think that there would be at least ONE SINGLE Air Canada rep manning the desk to answer questions! Also, there was no listing on the Air Canada board for our flight. More than slightly flustered now we double checked our itinerary again, there in small print under the giant AC XXX flight # was printed "Operated by United Airlines". Ok, so we run off in search of the UA counter. After a bit of running about like the proverbial chicken with no head we find the UA check in counter, and we get to the lovely friendly automated check-in system. (I am being sarcastic in case my writing style doesn't carry that across well enough I decided I needed this note to emphasise this point.) This check in system has several options to find your information, the first one we chose was by confirmation #, the one we had on our itinerary, we entered that long alphanumerical number and were promptly told that it was incorrect. No I would like to note here that it seems that every company that touches the air travel industry feel the need to coin their own terms when it comes to these "numbers" Some refer to it as a booking number, some call it your confirmation Number, some your reservation number etc, etc, you get the idea. If any of your have flown recently you know that your itinerary has nothing BUT these numbers all over it and wouldn't it be so extremely helpful if they used consistent terminology! So Long Story short we then opted to check in with our passports, we went through the menu options and then we get to the part where it shows you scanning your passport on the scanner below the screen. Well My wife tried it and then I tried it, and neither of us could get the darn thing to scan our passports. Finally a UA staff member happened by and I asked him what I was doing wrong, he gave me this look like I was asking why the sky was blue and then he said the Passport scanner is over here sir. pointing to what was obviously the passport scanner 3 feet to the side of the check in screen and in a place which looked NOTHING like what was on the screen. Did I feel stupid? Yes, I suddenly realized I had become one of those flustered people I deal with everyday, I wasn't paying any attention to my surroundings! So finally, success I got our passports scanned and it found our booking! Whee, a wave of relief came over me, I might actually get home after all! Then after confirming that yes I was who my passport said I was, (Kinda silly question really, does anyone else walk around with other peoples passports, and if you were would you admit to the machine that that wasn't you?) (I Digress..bad me!) So now the machine knew who I was and Where I was going and what flights I was on, the grand wizard of marketing waved his magic wand and presto, the selling begins, would I like an extra 5 Inches of legroom for only $48 each? I said no, I really would like the legroom, but I don't feel I should have to necessarily pay for it, not to mention I am already having a bad customer experience so I don't feel inclined to give them any more of my money. I WOULD RATHER SUFFER! Then it asks, Hey well if you don't want the legroom do you want to upgrade to first class? Only another $108 each. Again, I said no. It was a 3 hour flight, I could tough it out! Then it asked if we had any bags to check in, So I said yes, I had a bag to check and my Wife had a bag to check. Voila! That will be $105 Mr Dale. I was GOBSMAKCED! Really!? I felt like yelling at the stupid machine, then I wanted to yell at the travel agent, I Mean really seems Kinda stupid to book flights down which allowed you bags and then the flight bag they extort you at the airport to get your bags home? Its one thing to be aware and expecting it, but this seemed "evil". My wife, whom had experienced this already with UA just paid the bill and finished the check in. I was still sputtering my righteous indignation, almost hissing in fury. She said its just the way they do it. The last and final thing at the checkout which almost sent me into a total tizzy was when it printed the boarding passes, and with them it printed this official looking card with some US Government requirement that asked me to fill out this form... a form that asked me for my Full Name, where I was travelling to, and from, the plane I was on, etc. I said to my wife "You have got to be F!*%$% kidding! Don't they know all this stuff already!..." I said even worse things but you don't need to hear those!
Long story short, I was not as comfortable on my way home as I was going down, I am pretty sure the seats on the UA were closer spaced than the ones on Continental but I cannot be certain as I did have extra legroom on my flights to Orlando. My Wife DID fork out extra money $6 for me and $7 for her for a snack on the flight, I was not happy about it, but hey, my wife is smarter than me and she doesn't want to travel with a hungry grumpy bear any more than the next person.
In summation, I would fly Continental Airlines again, I had a good experience, I will do everything I can to never set foot on a United Flight, not because the flight was terrible. The in flight service was just OK. But mostly because the company (in my mind) seems to be taking the wrong tack with their service approach. It's not perhaps all their fault, but dammit I can be just as insane as the next customer and they should just do better! If your Partner (Air Canada) gives 1 free bag then perhaps when you are operating a Partner flight 1 free bag should be given! I have faith that MOST people value service and are willing to pay a little extra to be comfortable & happy.
I think there are too many companies trying to lure customers in by offering cheap airfare which isn't cheap because you have to pay for your bags separately, or they have FUEL surcharges, (which just tells me they really have no idea how much gas costs to fly from A to B) so really these discount carriers are not $50 cheaper than the competition they've just hidden it.
Does that make me the consumer think you are a better deal?
I don't, perhaps if I didn't have a bag then maybe, but soon no-one will "check" their bags, they will all try and save $50 by carrying them on. I mean the size of the carry-ons some of these people try to get away with is getting crazy! I have seen women with purses the size of a carry on with a backpack and a big rolling bag saunter onto the plane like it's their god given right to use all the storage space, and save $50 at the same time.
It's not going to be long before you have to pay for those too! (Mostly thanks to the people who just try and work the system by NOT checking thier bags) Not to mention you and your 300 passengers will all be flying Naked for Security Reasons! (Isn't that a mental Image that will haunt me for a day or two!)