“Offer the best to the passengers and people will fly with you”, says Sheikh Ahmed, Chairman of Emirates.

I read this statement as part of an article on a recent story about US airlines trying to stop Middle Eastern carriers operating direct flights from Europe to the USA. You can understand why he said it based upon the experience flying in North America – something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.

Now before I go on a rant, I’d like to point out I’m a big fan of budget air travel. If I’m in Europe I’ll still choose to fly with Ryanair over a flag carrier because it’s just so cheap.

In the US, cheap isn’t really an option yet the service on all the major carriers is pretty much as bad as or worse than Ryanair. JetBlue until recently used to be the last bastion of a customer focussed experience but scrapped this under pressure from investors and quickly added 4% to the share price by announcing baggage fees and tighter leg room.

You may ask why is this important? Well America, air travel sucks. Every carrier has chopped leg room, flies aging old aircraft, charges for baggage and provides ‘customer service’ that may as well not exist. The aim of this has been to boost ancillary revenue and cut costs. The impact of that is we’re approaching a race to the bottom.

Now when I book a trip to the US I’m looking for the lowest fare. End of. I have no loyalty to any carrier, I get little in return – only those flying business class every week really benefit. So while the analysts on Wall Street might like this for short term gain, over the long term airlines aren’t building loyal customer relationships.

Now look at Ryanair again. After years re-writing the rule book of European aviation, squeezing every last penny of costs out of the business, charging low fares and profiting from ancillary revenue they hit a wall. Customers decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and were switching to the likes of EasyJet who offered a less stressful and (slightly) more meaningful experience with happier staff and an EasyJet Plus programme.

Ryanair quickly changed tack, apologized and started to look at the customer. Their Labs programme is looking at ways to improve the customer experience. Recently results show them already seeing the benefit of this.

For EasyJet in the US, see Virgin America.

So US Airways, United, American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, Spirit et al. Please think longer term, think about the customer experience because no matter what you tell us. Flying isn’t like the glory days. It’s the worst part of my week. Here’s a few simple ideas.

  • Don’t cram in all those extra rows of seats. I’ll pay more for my ticket but I don’t want to pay extra fees for legroom seats. I’m only 6ft2 but it makes the experience crappy for not only me, but the guy in front with my knees in his back.
  • Offer a meaningful loyalty programme I can see some benefit from. See Hotels.com for their super simple loyalty offering.
  • Make a nice mobile app so I don’t have to deal with your terrible website. Tell me when my flight is delayed so I don’t have to scan the airport screens.
  • Don’t sell me terrible food and little drinks at extortionate prices. I’ll happily pay a fair price for something edible rather than rush at the airport.
  • Don’t charge punitive fees for baggage – it means me and my fellow passengers crush too much in our hand luggage then you run out of space in the overhead bins. Alternatively, work with the airlines to create more space in the cabin.
  • Partner with companies looking to get their brand out there. Birchbox succeeded by finding a model to distribute small samples. I’m sure food or toiletries brands would love to access a captive audience.
  • Make your cabins more comfortable. Be prepared to introduce design features like the Paperclip armrest, couch style seating for families/couples or the fixed headrest so I can get some sleep.
  • Let me rate the service I receive – airline customer service used to be the best, now it’s terrible. I can rate my Uber driver, why not the stewardess? I might get a smile then. Let them rate passengers in return and have it count against their frequent flier status.
  • Airlines invented the yield management pricing system but do a terrible job of short term pricing. That’s why HitList is such a good app. If American Airlines have spare seats out of NYC for the weekend, tell me about it and give me a deal. You’ll win my business.

I’m sure there’s a tonne of other great ideas here. It’s about time the industry changed and the US carriers are at the back of the line.

Maybe in future years I’ll be on US carriers for long haul services instead of always choosing the European, Asian, Middle Eastern or South American option.