4 More Reasons to Hate Airlines

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Results of the most recent American Consumer Satisfaction Index indicate, unsurprisingly, that our tolerance for airlines is plummeting.

According to the index, our satisfaction with airlines dropped by 1.5% this year, with the industry posting a subpar score of 65 out of 100. The highest rated industry, Express Delivery Services, which includes UPS, FedEx or the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service, received a score of 84.

The major airlines were largely responsible for the overall downturn. Both Continental (Stock Quote: CAL) and Delta (Stock Quote: DAL) saw their scores plunge by 10%, posting a 64 and 56 respectively. Only discount carrier Southwest Airlines (Stock Quote: LUV) posted a respectable score of 81, leading the category as it has for the past 18 years.

The ACSI cites poor service, higher fuel prices and fees for baggage and other services as the major sources of discontent for travelers, but MainStreet suspects that the public’s growing intolerance for airline shenanigans runs even deeper than that, especially in light of some very high-profile recent events.

In an effort to elaborate on (or, perhaps embrace) the findings from the ACSI, we bring you four (more) reasons airlines gave us to hate them this year.

They keep adding outrageous fees.

Americans are now used to paying for checked baggage – though it doesn’t help that Delta and United-Continental raised some of their baggage fees this year – but what really hurts is when an airline introduces a fee for a less obvious reason.

During the past year, airlines have introduced a fee to lock in a low fare (Continental), a fee to recline a little bit more comfortably (Delta) and most recently, a fee to have an agent print out your boarding pass, courtesy of frequent fee offender Spirit Airlines (Stock Quote: SAVE).

Maybe they felt that the $3.4 billion in baggage fees they amassed in 2010 were not enough.

They appear to be stacking the deck.

It also doesn’t help that recent and impending airline mergers could severely limit a flier’s options to find a ticket for the best price.

In May 2010, United (Stock Quote: UAL) announced that it had bought Continental. About five months later, discount carrier Southwest purchased AirTran. The two mergers followed a union by Delta and Northwest Airlines in 2008.

Experts have told MainStreet before that these mergers could mean higher prices and fewer available flights for consumers, the effects of which are evident in the ACSI’s survey.

“Airline mergers typically have a destructive effect on passenger satisfaction,” Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI and author of The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference, said in a press release. “Past experience points to more customer satisfaction challenges ahead for United and raises the question of whether Southwest can escape customer satisfaction problems from its acquisition of Air Tran in May.”

They punish you for your discontent.

Of course, those who are feeling particularly offended by how an airline’s service measures up to the high price of airfare need to choose their words carefully when on board the plane. Brooklyn native Robert Sayegh recently got ejected from a plane after a flight attendant heard him cursing when complaining about the delay of his flight. And Sayegh’s situation is more common than you may think.

"Congress initially passed rules empowering air carriers to be able to remove passengers who actually posed a threat to the flight, were seriously intoxicated or unruly,” Gerald C. Sterns, a California attorney who specializes in aviation law, told MainStreet last week, explaining that often these laws get interpreted by airline personnel and courts very broadly.

“Only the perception of the flight attendant matters,” Sterns says. “Whatever the problem, all the attendant needs to say is Passenger X may ‘interfere’ with their duties or otherwise pose a problem to the orderly progress of the flight.”

Unless you post a YouTube video to get their attention.

Truth be told, it seems that these days the only way to get a gripe addressed with airline personnel is go viral with it. Delta recently charged a platoon of U.S. soldiers returning from Afghanistan $2,800 in extra baggage fees until two staff sergeants posted a video to YouTube about the charges and the airline formally changed its baggage policy for military personnel.

We’re still waiting to see whether or not Delta will do anything to address allegations that a British passenger made in a recent YouTube video that the airline’s baggage handlers urinated in his checked luggage.  

Are we giving airlines a hard time? Of course there are two sides to every story, and for the record read our counter-argument in MainStreet’s defense of airlines … sort of.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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