No matter how airlines degrade their service standards these days in the West, I think it's fair to say that most of us still believe that most airlines *intend* to:
- Take off on-time
- Land on-time
- Fly us from A to B as the ticket says, without surprise stops
- (Oh, and have toilets, of course)
On a recent trip to Ethiopia, we have been shown a rather different way of operating an airline. It contradicts with all of the above, but it works. We took 4 internal flights.
Here is how we experienced them first hand:
- 1 left on time as per the ticket, and even got us there early (bonus!), because...
- None of the 4 flights flew the original path it said it would: stopovers were skipped to go direct instead, or the direct flights got stopovers added onto it last minute
- None of them arrived late, because...
- Some of them took off earlier than stated
- Additionally, the air stewardesses were lovely, and they gave passengers snacks and drinks (*gasp* what novelty!)
- To their credit, they did try to inform passengers of the changes a couple of days ahead of the flight (in our case by email, which we only read after we got back to London).
- They also tell passengers to double check the flight times a couple of days before, to be aware of any late changes.
IMHO, an airline would play this game, because: (we suspect - unconfirmed)
- It wants to minimise costs - mainly fuel in this case.
- It has 1-2 planes that fly in circles to cover off a handful of popular destinations.
- As the airline gets more and more requests for seats through the form of purchased tickets, it is faced with an optimisation problem to fly all its customers to their expressed destinations with minimum cost. The best way to do this is probably through re-shuffling the schedule. For instance, if a plane is hopping from A to B to C in sequence, where B is closer to A than C is, and if we discover 2 days before the flight that the plane is filled with 2/3 passengers going to C, and 1/3 going to B, then flying A->C->B is cheaper than A->B->C. What if there are customers wishing to go from B to C? We hear that the airline is known for cancelling flights as well. Luckily, we didn't experience this.
- It is a monopoly.
- The number of flights are few, so it's easy to manage change.
- Customers expect it and adjust flying behaviour accordingly (i.e. always check the flight times before the day of flight, and always leave wiggle room before and after the flight).
- For foreigners who are used to the typical western airline service (i.e. expect it to take-off and land on-time and fly the route it says it would), the price justifies it and shuts people up from complaining, and instead people will have a laugh (or write a blog post!) about it.
- It doesn't call itself "Precision Airline" (the Tanzanian airline), and can afford to deviate a little. 8-)