Goin' Down: Those Crappy US Airlines, Cruise Lines

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 1/24/2012 09:13:00 AM
For those of you who remember your high school literature, Charon in Dante Alighieri's Inferno was the ferryman of Hades who transported the souls of the dead across the river Styx on a journey to farther reaches of the underworld. In today's international political economy, you can argue that American travel services now perform similar functions. Perhaps ol' Charon has hung up his oars for good and struck a deal with Satan himself to outsource these devilish duties. At any rate, modern American travel services epitomize America itself circa 2012: an economically unviable entity that should be put out to pasture ASAP if our contemporary era of subprime globalization had any sense (which it doesn't).

For a country that pioneered the concept of services marketing, its cutting-edge research, and its application to real-world business, it remains astounding how poor the United States' travel services are. Truly subprime, in fact. Let us begin with the most egregious violator of economic logic, the US airline industry. Given how flying into and around the US presents America's face to the world at large, this industry drags the USA's tarnished reputation further into the mud. We all know the maths of it: In no small part due to American warmongering in Iraq and perhaps Iran in the near future via the Bushite doctrine of pre-emptive strike, oil prices have shot through the roof and caused American carriers already on shaky ground post-9/11 to cease being businesses in the commonly understood sense. In the decade since, these airlines have lost over $50 billion. Especially if you're of the "deficits don't matter" persuasion, you can of course argue that this amount pales in comparison with the US federal deficit. But, the larger point is that the constant need to subsidize this money loser and keep interstate/international air travel is but another leech on the decaying body politic of America.

At the end of last year, we received news that American Airlines entered bankruptcy proceedings. This action completed the cycle of every single major US carrier (save for Southwest, but some would say it doesn't count as a discount carrier) declaring insolvency at least once. Hilariously, it was not long before that when American Airlines proudly proclaimed that it made the largest order in airline history with Airbus and Boeing. Again it's symptomatic of America nowadays: speaking loudly, carrying no stick. The truth is more straightforward: US carriers have among the oldest fleets, poorest customer ratings, surliest and highly unionized flight crew, lousiest on-time performance, a chequered history with lost baggage...the list goes on and on. Let's just say you won't be hearing "Relax" playing in the background with this lot. That they run old jets exacerbates their status as perennial money losers given that older designs are less fuel-efficient than modern ones. America and its airlines: misery loves companies.

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We also received truly appalling news of the Costa Concordia sinking in Italy. My first reaction was, "That's impossible! European cruise lines aren't into PR fiascoes." Its online advertising states "Experience the Costa Concordia cruise ship for a cruise vacation you will never forget." Quite so. Ever-so-slightly more investigation reveals that the parent company of the doomed liner is none other than the former Carnival Cruise Lines. Having a long memory--sometimes a blessing, often a curse--I recall the good ol' days of its operation when the worst sort of maltreatment passengers encountered on Carnival was chronic food poisoning [1. 2, 3]. Apparently unsatisfied with such offences to passenger health, they hired some nutter to run a $600 million vessel into something.

You can argue that Carnival improved somewhat by linking up with a British cruise line. You can further argue that it has done reasonably well compared to its airline counterparts. All I can say is wait till the lawyers are done with Carnival. There may have been a smidgen of improvement via the British involvement, but traditional American hallmarks of harming the customer never really go away in these sorts of services. How about giving a 30% discount to survivors of the ill-fated Costa Concordia on future Carnival trips to add insult to injury? Let's say the PR geniuses at Carnival will never get over that blunder. US airlines may be terrible, but outright termination is admittedly seldom on the cards. It's even pulled much advertising out of sheer shame.

And don't get me started on how US airports have suffered from neglect alike the rest of America's rotting infrastructure. With New York's JFK Airport ranked worst in the world, America's shame is only increased. Got that, America #1 cheerleaders? Instead of telling us how great your nation is and how stupid us primitives are, why not address your thoroughly rotten transportation services that reveals the joke is on you?

Certainly Obama's drive to double exports in five years should benefit from services people actually can, ah, stomach using? That such matters appear like a pipe dream in modern America tells you how far it's fallen. Hellbound, in fact--go ask Charon.