A painful truth and what we’re doing about it

Painful truths.

That’s what Heather Dratler delivered in her epic story on the things airlines insiders wish you knew, but are afraid to tell you.

It was this week’s most-read post, and it attempted to explain everything from odd seat pricing to high change fees. Heather knows people in the biz, and they did their best to justify the often bizarre airline industry practices.

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It made for some fascinating reading. And while some readers loved the explanation, others loathed it.

“There’s nothing in it that even remotely suggests that those practices are, in fact, justifiable,” Peter Altschuler comments. “If retailers did business this way — charging different prices on different days or when foot traffic is higher or when demand for a particular item goes up — the public enmity would be palpable, and sales would suffer.”

Yet Heather’s explanations are the truth, at least how the airline industry sees it.

And that truth hurts.

Every day on this site, our advocacy team has to deliver hard truths to people who come to us for help, too.

I’m sorry, your ticket is nonrefundable.

I’m sorry, you didn’t have insurance.

I’m sorry, your product is out of warranty.

We try to say it as infrequently as possible, but there it is on our help forums. You can see the reactions, too. Last week, for example, one reader was so upset at Amazon that he began lashing out at our own advocates, who were just trying to assist him.

We understand our role. It isn’t to defend any industry’s policies or rules. It isn’t to tell people that they should have known better. No, it is to make the truth a little more bearable and, wherever possible, to turn a “no” into a “yes” — even when someone doesn’t technically deserve it.

That’s why we do this. My advocates are the morphine of the consumer world. We try to take away some of the pain, even when it’s self-inflicted.

We’re also a little addictive. I know. This week, we hosted dozens of fascinating discussions. We posted numerous unsanctioned new company contacts for Lindblad Expeditions, Travel Guard, the Wall Street Journal (oh, that one’s gonna get us into trouble with the journalism gods).

Just this morning, I also published my frequently asked questions about tours. As always, it’s sure to enrage the travel agents who sell tours. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

Among the questions I answer:

• How can I be sure I’m getting the best deal?
• What’s a dynamic package?
• What are the risks of buying a package?

It’s the truth — as I see it.

The interesting thing about the truth, one way or the other, is that if you don’t like it, you can say something. Start your own consumer site. Or better yet, do something. If you have a problem with airline logic and airline facts — or any other vision corporate America may have — then for heaven’s sake, stop buying the products. Lobby the government for smarter regulation.

The truth is like a blade: It cuts both ways. If we refuse to play along with the airline world’s bizarre logic, they will have to see things your way, eventually.

Wouldn’t that be something?

13 thoughts on “A painful truth and what we’re doing about it

  1. I never understood people who get angry at you Chris when you are trying to help them for free no less…

    Some people just cannot accept its their fault I guess.

    Screw me once shame on you, screw me twice shame on me.

  2. Thanks for the link to that interesting discussion.
    I see term “reseller” used the thread, and I’ve often seen it used in describing outfits that sell electronic goods.
    Is there an actual difference between a reseller and a retailer?
    If so, how might that affect the customer?

    1. A reseller, using Amazon or another delivery/fulfillment service, can walk away at any point, and resurface under another name. They likely have very little reason to build up customer good will.

      1. Thanks. Also I’ve heard/seen legitimate bricks-and-mortar businesses described as e.g. “Apple resellers”. Do you know if that differs from being a retailer?

        1. In that case, it differentiates them from the Apple-owned stores that sell the same thing. My experience with cellaphone resellers is that the customer experience can vary widely, compared to the official store.

          1. but this is for retail stores, and NOT what it means when referring to the travel industry. Reseller here means the tour operator or travel agent who has packaged all those separate items has now turned around and sold the package to you, rather than each component selling it to you separately

    2. Actually, in travel lingo, it refers to a tour operator or agent selling the hotel, versus the hotel selling directly. Packages and tours fall into that category.

  3. My first reaction to Heather’s article was that she had gone over to the ‘dark side’, but then again, when I thought about it, she was just reporting what was said by the TRUE industry apologists. It is good to honestly understand those on the other side of the aisle, then we can respond to what is real, not what we imagine to be true.

  4. I pointed out a factual error in your story about Qantas airlines. The advocate links to Qantas, misquotes their site, then criticizes them based on her misquote. If the truth cuts both ways this would have been acknowledged, corrected and a retraction or editorial note added to the story. Instead it stands as incorrectly posted.

    Author submits story. Editor reads story and checks quotes (in this case by clicking on link in story). When quote does not match source, editor does not post story. It’s a really simple process that any semi-serious blog or newsletter should be following.

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