July 27, 2000 -- When did we become sheep? When did business travelers make the tragic transformation from stoic warriors to mindless robo-flyers? Did I miss the memo that ordered us to pay what the major airlines charge and fly without thinking? Was I out of town the week we had the big meeting and we all agreed to do what we were told even if we knew it was wrong?
I ask because I am deeply concerned about the response to a column ("You Buy and You Fly? Then You're Happy") I wrote earlier this month. I suggested then that business travelers who fly in record numbers in the face of record-high fares plausibly allow the major airlines to claim that we are content with the rapacious prices they charge and the repugnant service they offer.
Hundreds of you promptly sent me E-mail claiming you had no choice. We hate the fares and we hate the service, you claimed, but what can we do? We have to fly. There are no options. Our clients make us do it. Our corporate-travel departments make us do it. The major airlines own us. We're beaten. We're prisoners. We've got no alternative but to pay too much and get too little.
Baloney, I say. Not exactly a Churchillian rhetorical retort, I admit, but you get the point. I say we do have options. We're only prisoners of high fares and bad service if we want to be. We can fight back. For our own collective sense of self-respect--if not our own comfort--we can't allow the major carriers to charge what they charge and treat us like they treat us and then claim that we're happy with our lot.
You want choices? Here are four, just for starters. Are they perfect? No. Are they foolproof? No. Do they require some creative thinking and some sacrifice? Yes. But I'm not suggesting you do anything that hasn't been road tested by me and a lot of our fellow travelers. I'm not proposing you do anything outlandish.
FLY THE CHEAP GUYS
And the price differential is astonishing. Here are just three examples. United charges a walk-up, one-way fare of $592 between Denver and Kansas City. Vanguard charges $184. Northwest charges $511 to fly between its Minneapolis and Detroit hubs. Sun Country charges $199. USAirways wants $294 to fly between New York/LaGuardia and Buffalo. JetBlue flies to Buffalo from New York/Kennedy and charges $99.
FLY THE BETTER GUYS
Want to fly from Dallas/Fort Worth to Milwaukee? Why pay American a one-way walk-up fare of $424 to fly an American Eagle commuter flight. For the same price, Midwest Express offers a DC-9 configured 2x2 with leather seats, gracious in-flight service and a meal you can actually enjoy. Need to fly between Los Angeles and Newark? You can pay Continental $1,146. Or you can fly National, make a quick stop in Las Vegas, and pay just $464. You can even fly first class on National for less money ($814) than Continental charges to sit in the back of the bus.
WORK THE PROGRAMS