The real reason legacy airlines are awful

Because they can.

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That’s my conclusion after finishing the missing emails from April and May. America’s legacy airlines are awful because they can be awful, and because we let them.

The graph (above) comes directly from data provided by the authoritative American Customer Service Index. Don’t confuse it with one of those incomprehensible charts posted on an airline fanblog. This is the real deal — it’s the last decade of service scores.

If I’d received the same grades as the legacy carriers when I was in school, I’d have never graduated.

Yet these airline serve us — indeed, some abuse us — every day.

Shame on them for doing it, and shame on us for letting them.

So here’s what I uncovered when I answered two months worth of emails. The airlines that scored the lowest have been busy taking advantage of their customers. Busier than I could have possibly imagined.

They throw the book into their passengers’ faces with alarming regularity. They invent ridiculous, customer-hostile policies, designed to extract more money from them. They do it without shame.

And lately, they’ve become more aggressive about the rightness of their cause. Their lumbering size and the laughable lack of government regulation has been interpreted by them as a mandate to ratchet up the fees, surcharges and toxic policies. Their rhetoric (“fees are good”, and “we’re the most regulated industry in America”) is such a classic example of corporate doublespeak, I don’t even know what to say.

This is a letter E to represent Elliott Advocacy (, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization.
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You know better.

I was absolutely shocked by the brazen attacks that I uncovered in the emails — the airline apologists who are defending this house of cards consisting of avaricious surcharges, bizarre rules and addictive, non-reciprocal “loyalty” programs. It’s so awful that even some airline insiders have contact me, apologizing for the rudeness of their employers. Who would have thought?

At the same time, I’ve never been more sure of the rightness of our cause. We — you, me, and everyone else on the plane no matter where we’re sitting or how much we paid — deserve to be treated with honesty and dignity. When the airlines try to persuade my outlets to drop my column — without success, fortunately — when they send their little apologists after me, well, I know there’s only one response.

Have a look at your customer service scores.

I don’t even have to say it.

You’re terrible.

This post originally contained language that some readers found offensive. My apologies.