Shock and Awe as Holly Discovers An Unexpected Benefit to Traveling on US Airways

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I will be the first one to tell you that when US Airways announced it was going to start charging for soft drinks I was not a big fan.

No, it was worse than that. I thought they had lost their minds.

What self-respecting marketing-blooded human being (like myself) would agree that this was a smart move for the airline? Much less — for their passengers?

Then last week US Airways President Scott Kirby made headlines (which we noted in PlaneBusiness Banter this week) for telling the folks at the Calyon Securities Airline Investor Conference that hey — the change was proving to be a good deal for US Airways. And its passengers. The cabins were quieter, there was less trash to worry about, and the lines were shorter for the lavs. And yes, the airline was, net/net, improving the numbers on the bottom line, which is what we had suspected was going to be the case.

Some folks had thought the airline would need to sell a lot of drinks to make the move a smart one. No, not necessarily. If the airline sells fewer cans of Coke, they will save money in terms of weight and in terms of the number of soft drinks they have to pay for and stock onboard.

When I read Scott’s comments from last week, I laughed. Knowing Scott — I had to give him a gold star for what I thought was an attempt to make a positive statement about what was obviously a “deterioration” in passenger service.

Okay, I eat my bad thoughts. And I also admit that I am as shocked as anyone.

I flew two segments today on US Airways as I traveled from New Orleans to Cleveland. Tomorrow I will present the luncheon keynote speech for The Beat Live Conference.

And you know what?

The flights were more enjoyable. They are quieter, less stressful (where’s the cart, when is the drink coming, put down the tray, put up the tray, can I get past the cart to get to the bathroom) and yep, the lines are not as long outside the lavs.

Now — one caveat.

The flight out of MSY was held for an hour by ATC because of delays in Philly. That meant that folks in coach were sitting an awfully long time and were going to be sitting even longer without anything to drink — unless they purchased it.

So about 3/4s of the way through the hold, as we sat on the taxiway at MSY, the flight attendants began to distribute water to those passengers who wanted some in coach. Nice touch, and it was done well.

And that is where — going forward — I could see some potential problems. If, say, an aircraft was forced to sit for a long time somewhere with no food and a limited supply of beverages onboard.

But other than that — yeah, I was as shocked as anyone. But I’m telling you — it was different. And good different.

Oddly enough I wrote this week in PBB about the big revenue gamble that Southwest Airlines has taken by advertising the hell out of their “full service, no fee” strategy. They really have dug a huge hole for themselves now — both in terms of putting themselves out there as the only major airline not charging fees — which could backfire if they have to reverse course — and in terms of lost potential revenues.

Today, after the two flights I had — I’m convinced that paying $2 for a Coke on an airplane is not a bad thing. Either in terms of the passenger experience — which, shockingly, is actually improved — or the airline’s bottom line.