Ask Brian: Why Do U.S. Airlines Struggle With Service Delivery?
Plus: I answer readers’ questions about the future of in-seat entertainment and why U.S. airlines have so many hub-to-hub flights
The best part of the newsletter is interacting with you. Many readers have worked in the industry for decades, while some are just starting. A few have subscribed because you enjoy the business. I'm happy to have everyone, and I love it when you comment or send emails, so keep them coming. Recently, I put out a call for questions. I heard from many of you, and received some incisive questions about route networks, products, and corporate strategy — all things this newsletter covers.
I’ll start with a zinger of a question from one of my favorite sources, dating all the way back to the briansumers.com days. This person asked to remain anonymous.
How come the U.S. airline industry generally fail at service delivery compared to global peers — from mediocre products and facilities to sloppily dressed employees with lackadaisical attitudes? It can't be cultural, as we can deliver amazing service standards and experiences in some other industries such as in hotels and retail.
The questioner is a knowledgeable insider who has traveled significantly outside the United States. Still, I want to push back slightly. It's an easy trope to criticize U.S. carriers for not keeping pace with global peers, but as a globetrotter myself, I am not sure it is true. The major European carriers have major issues with service delivery, and while Asian carriers are better, many have considerable rigidity that can be off-putting to those accustomed to American informality. Maybe state-owned carriers in the Gulf and Asia are better, but they have different priorities.
Now, to the question: Yes, U.S. carriers struggle with service delivery and consistency, and I think there are at least four reasons for it.