给航空公司的新年寄语 / New Year’s Advice for the Airlines

给航空公司的新年寄语

很多常在国际间飞来飞去的旅客可能都会和我有同感:空中旅行已经大不如前,再也没有一点儿轻松惬意的感觉了。

长途班机和机场已经成为感冒和流感的常发地,这一点儿都不稀奇。但如今能搭载更多旅客(因此也携带更多细菌)的超大机型却让情况变得雪上加霜了。

根据我的亲身见闻,我发现和几年前相比,大中华区每天都有更多航空旅客感到呼吸不适。当真如此的话,那患病的几率肯定也会相应提高。可以随便向香港或北京的全科大夫打听一下近年来呼吸系统病人增多的情况。(然后再看看窗外的空气质量,问一句为什么。)

大部分国际机票的价格飞涨,航空公司还要疲于应付不断上涨的燃油成本以及其他危及经营利润的难题。

为扭转常年亏损的状况,许多航空公司——特别是欧美航空公司——求助于增设新的收费项目,并美其名曰为“附加服务”(例如:枕头、毯子、薯片、行李托运等)。

国际机场的安检措施对客人的打扰越来越多,这对抓坏人不见得管用,但对拖延大家的时间却立竿见影,让整个过程乐趣尽失。我并不想抱怨,但这些都是事实。而且很多机场的边检队伍还长如龙,慢如虫。

国际航空旅客可能遇到的倒霉事汇总如下:付更多的钱、得到更少的服务、等待更长的时间、途中还有可能染病。矮油,这到底是什么情况?!

除非因公出差,我比十年前更少选择乘长途飞机去旅游。这倒不是因为时间和金钱,而是享受的问题。和以前相比,享受已经少了很多,那何苦还要面对那些困扰,特别是在打算放松的时候呢?所以,各国在看重旅游收入的同时,真应该好好检视一下这种情况。

我不想把现状都归咎于航空公司。航空业本来就举步维艰,经常受到很多不合理的监管,还要随时对抗高涨的油价以及其他运营成本。我希望他们能获得成功。但要实现这一目标不仅需要管理方“跳出来”思考,也需要监管方开明的态度。

我对航空公司有个建议,他们在定价时可以继续遵从“谁使用谁付费”的原则。比如“附加服务费”就算是朝这个方向迈出了第一步,但现有的措施还不够统一。

例如:目前客票价格的计算方式就让我觉得匪夷所思。为什么体重60公斤的旅客和体重120公斤的旅客要支付同等的票价?燃油费占了航空公司运营成本的大头,所以事实上体型大的乘客享受到了更多的折扣。假如空运货物不能按邮包重量收费的话,那快递公司估计早就赔到姥姥家了。

小型地方航空公司有时的确会向超重的旅客收取额外费用,要求他们多购一张票,但这个原则(可以说)应该得到进一步的推广。

对于那些“附加服务费”,我不太欣赏,但我猜以后可能会越收越多:手提行李、卫生间(也许下一个就是智能卫生间)、阅读灯、拖鞋、洗漱品——能收费的地方还多着呢。

航空公司另一个新的经济增长点可能是舱内空间的细分市场。现在除了头等舱、公务舱和经济舱以外,已经出现了高端经济舱(座位更加宽敞)和其他类似的舱位变种。

也许还可以新设一个“病号舱”:设在经济舱最后排,用透明帘与其他舱位隔开,带专用的卫生间。这些高收费座位可以预订给那些打喷嚏、咳嗽或体温略高的旅客。

也许还可以为体重超过一定标准的旅客设定“加重舱”?按加重收费后,坐席当然也应该更宽敞,更舒适,支撑力更强。

兴趣团体可能也是一个新的收入来源。客人如果愿意多付费,就可以和兴趣相投的旅客坐在一起。例如:曼联球迷、“占领华尔街”的支持者、抗议村民、哈佛商学院校友、北大毕业生等。机上娱乐系统也应该可以提供舱内社交网络互动:在三万五千英尺的高空上,让LinkedIn、QQ、Facebook、人人网网联天下。

不敢想了。但我能肯定的是航空公司和监管机构最好尽快拿出办法。

顺便,赶紧买入一些视频会议和地方旅游公司的股份吧。

New Year’s Advice for the Airlines

Some other veteran frequent international travelers may share my feeling that air travel is nowhere near as much fun as it used to be, and there’s not much relief in sight.

It’s a fact that long-haul airline flights and airports are very easy places to catch a cold or flu. This is nothing new, but it has been exacerbated by today’s larger aircraft carrying more passengers (and therefore, more germs).

My own observation, based mainly on anecdotal experience, is that on an average day, a much higher percentage of air travelers in greater China are suffering from respiratory ailments than was the case a few years ago. If so, the probability of contagion has also increased. Ask any general medical practitioner in Hong Kong or Beijing about the increase in respiratory ailments among their patients in recent years. (Then look out the window at the air quality and wonder why.)

The cost of most international tickets is rising quickly. Airlines continue to struggle with rising fuel costs and other serious challenges to their profitability.

In an effort to reverse the chronic tide of red ink, many airlines — especially in Europe and the U.S. — are resorting to creative new ways of charging for what they euphemistically refer to as “ancillary services” (e.g. pillows, blankets, potato chips, checked luggage, etc.).

More intrusive security measures at international airports may or may not be effective at catching bad guys, but they are certainly effective at slowing things down for everyone else, making it less fun in the process. I’m not complaining. That’s simply a fact. Plus immigration queues in many airports are very long and very slow-moving.

The situation for hapless long-haul international passengers might thus be summed up as: pay more, get less, wait longer, and maybe get sick in the process. Hurray! What’s wrong with this picture?!

Apart from business travel, I choose to take less long-haul flights for tourist purposes than I did ten years ago. It’s not a question of money or time, it’s a question of enjoyment. I enjoy them far less than I used to; so why face the hassle, especially when it’s time to relax? To the extent that countries value tourism income, they should pay attention to this phenomenon.

I’m not blaming the situation entirely on airlines. They are in a tough business, highly and often irrationally regulated, and they are scrambling to combat high fuel and other operating costs. I hope they succeed. Management will need to think out of the box to do so, and regulators will need more enlightened thinking as well.

One piece of advice to airlines would be that they further adopt the principle of “user pays” in their pricing. “Ancillary fees” are already a step in this direction, but the current approach is inconsistent.

For example, the basis of calculation for passenger ticket fares seems illogical to me. Why should a passenger weighing 60 kg. pay the same fare as one weighing 120 kg.? Fuel costs are a huge part of airline operating costs, so, in effect, very large people are travelling at a very big discount. If air courier charges were not based on the weight of the parcel, express delivery companies would be losing their shirts.

Small regional carriers do sometimes charge a premium for obese people, by requiring them to buy two seats rather than one, but the parameters of this principle should be extended more widely (so to speak).

As for all these new “ancillary fees”, I don’t like them; but I’m guessing that we’ll seeing more and more of them in future: charges for carry-on bags, bathroom visits (perhaps smart toilets are next), reading lamp usage, slippers, amenity kits — the possibilities are many.

Another frontier for new revenue to airlines might be niche marketing of new premium inflight seating zones. Thus far, in addition to First, Business, and Economy, we’ve already seen the emergence of Premium Economy (larger seats) and other variations on this theme.

Another new seating zone could perhaps be “Sick Bay”: located in Economy, at the back of the cabin, insulated from the rest of the cabin by a clear plastic sheet, with dedicated toilets. These premium priced seats would be reserved for sneezers, coughers, and those with moderately high temperatures.

And what about “Wide Load” seats for individuals weighing above a certain amount? Charged at a “loading” premium, of course, these could be wider, for added comfort and support.

Another new revenue stream might arise from affinity groups. Passengers could be offered the option, at a premium price, to be seated with like-minded folks. For example, Manchester United football fans, Occupy Wall Street supporters, Protesting Villagers, Harvard Business School alums, Peking University graduates, and so on. Inflight entertainment systems could be wired to allow inflight social networking to take place: LinkedIn meets QQ meets Facebook meet RenRen, at 35,000 feet.

The mind boggles. All I know for sure is that the airlines and their regulators better think of something before too long.

Meanwhile, buy shares in companies in the video conferencing space as well as those in the local tourism business.


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