Over the past couple of months I have racked up a serious number of air miles, mostly on domestic carriers. Each trip demonstrated what everyone already knows: the flights are packed to capacity. Fewer flights, tighter schedules, baggage restrictions, and a surlier than usual set of flight attendants and gate agents. This, we are told, is the “new normal.”
But not everywhere.
I contrast my recent flights on Delta, Continental and US Air with one I took last year to Thailand on Thai Airways and another to London on British Air. The seats were comfortable. The flight attendants were friendly and service oriented. The food was well above the average, even in the coach class seats my budget afforded. The entire experience was most pleasant. Smooth as silk, you might say.
News flash: Rumor has it the domestic carriers are even more severely restricting consolidator contracts, making it more difficult for consolidators to compete with published fares. I am certain that this is a matter of consternation for many travel companies that have proven to be great friends to the travel agency community.
I see an opportunity. Actually, I see a couple of opportunities and I would like to see both suppliers and travel agents take advantage. The entire distribution chain can benefit, not least of all the consumer.
Foreign carriers would do well to step into the breach left by U.S. carriers. With the U.S. carriers largely abdicating their lead role in consolidation, doesn’t it make sense for some smart foreign carriers to ink some aggressive contracts with consolidators catering to the domestic market? This appears to be an excellent opportunity to gain market share by providing financial incentive to the distribution chain.
The task will not be easy. Ask the average U.S. traveler if they would rather fly Delta or Thai Airways and Delta would likely win handily simply on the basis of familiarity with the brand. The public knows the brand and anticipates that service levels differ little, having experienced mostly domestic carriers. But educating the public is exactly what the travel agency channel is all about. With the possibility of presenting a better travel experience at an equivalent price (with higher commissions) the opportunity is appealing.
If foreign carriers stepped up with appropriate financial incentives for consolidators, and therefore travel agents, it would not be long before brands like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Qatar, Ethiad, Asiana, Turkish Airlines, etc. would be as familiar as their better known U.S. counterparts. These airlines already by and large provide an equivalent and often superior product, they just need to grab some mind-share. That requires incentive.
I hear there’s money in the air. Let’s see if together we can bring some of it to ground.