The big PR “damage control” story for today is American Airlines’ decision to charge $15 for each checked bag.
BusinessWeek’s David Kiley sent this “memo” to Weber-Shandwick, American Airlines agency of record, suggesting they forward it to their client:
Dear Client: Instead of instituting a fee for checked bags, which will be a lightning rod of bad publicity, please consider burying the cost of rising fuel in across-the-board ticket price increases. Consumers understand that many consumer prices are rising because of increasing fuel costs. What they don’t like, or understand, is when companies begin charging for items they have previously gotten for free-a single checked bag, a soda, a bag of chips, a WiFi connection, etc. The best solution to this problem is to stay out of the news, not to lean into it and ask for a pie in the face.
Michael Bush penned the feature story in Advertising Age, where he made the point that this announcement is also covering up other bad news for the carrier. “American Airlines is reducing capacity as much as 12% and laying off thousands…Yet those shifts were all but lost in the media coverage and PR backlash generated by a third move it’s making: instituting a first-checked-bag fee of $15 each way.”
Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan says being first is the real issue. “American’s only mistake here was being the first one to put in this fee. Now that they’ve broken the cherry, watch as all their fellow airlines fall in line,” he wrote.
Sure enough, “United Airlines said it is ‘seriously studying’ the baggage matter, and Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and US Airways said they are evaluating the idea,” according to Newsday.
One question to think about: do consumers buy tickets solely based on the ticket price they see on a travel website, or do they buy based on who their frequent flier account is with, or who they’ve flown with before.
Personally, we buy mainly on ticket price, and tend to overlook the “extra” costs. American seems to see it this way as well, as shown by their choice to raise the “extras” instead of base ticket prices.
Either way, American will have to pay the consequences of being the first to announce this price increase, during peak summer travel season taboot. Who will be next?