Getting What You Pay For: Airplanes and Cheeseburgers

AirTran Airplane

There are very few things that people complain about more than the service they receive when they fly on commercial airline.  Those of us who regularly fly or have flown in the past probably can recall a time or two when things did not go smoothly.  Bags were lost, a connection was missed, planes were grounded, the pilots were late; the list goes on and on. Chances are you can identify a few airlines that messed up badly enough for you to never want to fly with them again. When we pay $200 to fly somewhere, we expect the service to be spot on.  But I have to wonder, is that a realistic expectation?

Delicious Cheeseburger Picture

I got to thinking about comparisons to the airline industry and one familiar example is the world of cheeseburgers.  There’s a spectrum of service and product quality that is directly correlated with price.  On the low end, you have companies like White Castle, McDonald’s, and Burger King selling their burgers for as little as a dollar a piece.  On the high end there are hundreds of upscale restaurants and steakhouses across the country that serve burgers for as much as $25 or $30!  At McDonald’s or Burger King, your expectations for the quality of service aren’t very high.  It wouldn’t surprise you if an ingredient was missing on your burger, the cashier who took your order has nearly incoherent, or the burger was cold.  You aren’t be fazed by mediocre service because you aren’t paying much for it.  If you dine at an upscale restaurant on the other hand, you expect your burger to be perfect and the service spot on.  After all, you are paying $25 for meat and cheese on a bun.  The point is that you don’t expect five-star service from McDonald’s and you expect much more than McDonald’s service at a five-star restaurant.

When push comes to shove, I don’t think cheeseburgers are a whole lot different than airplane rides.  You could spend as little as $125 flying coach on a lower cost airline like Delta, United, or AirTran and get average service.  Or, you could spend $1300 flying on Turkish Airlines or British Airways and receive stellar service.  Yet our expectations don’t necessarily match reality when it comes to flying.  Many people expect the same level of service that they would get from a luxury airline from a discount airline.  We don’t expect five-star service at McDonald’s so why do we expect luxury airline service from Southwest?

Delta Airplane Jet Takeoff

When it comes to flying, I think it’s important that we remind ourselves that the service and quality of product we purchase is directly proportional to how much we pay.  In essence, you get what you pay for.  I’m guilty of complaining about airlines just like the next guy, but I shouldn’t when I’m only paying $125 to fly.  Speaking from a consumer perspective, perhaps I should be OK with mediocre service every once and a while. So the next time you are flying don’t get bent out of shape if a discount airline loses your bag or delays your flight. It’s not that big of a deal.

3 Comment

  1. It IS a big deal when your bags are lost…especially on the way “out”. It is not such a big deal on the way home, as you have plenty of other “stuff”, along with the comforts of home to supplant the temporary loss. However, I have come to realize flying is no more than taking a Greyhound bus with wings. The only difference is you are far more confined due to the lack of being able to get off at the next stop if you choose!!

  2. I agree with you that you get what you pay for… most of the time. I was in LA recently and met a friend at a place near Hollywood for lunch. I ordered a cheeseburger, a side of fries, and a Diet Coke. My bill was over $40. Granted, I was in Hollywood and there were celebs all around (not like that affected my meal) so I assumed to pay more. But still, a bit over priced.

    Now, when speaking on airlines, I rarely experience a positive flight. I have flown multiple airlines numerous times. In the next few months I will fly Southwest, American, Delta, and AirTran traveling to places like Dallas, New York City, Aruba, and Phoenix. It doesn’t matter, every single flight is the same. They are always late. The flight attendants are always rude, and you never get what you pay for, in my opinion. Southwest is the best airline I have ever flown, as a matter of fact, offering always on time flights and fun, energetic flight attendants with lots of leg room and never completely full flights.

    Regardless, this was a fun read for me. I do travel a lot, and just last night I had a 1 pound cheeseburger at Bub’s in Carmel. It was $12 and I left full. (Note that I said it was a 1 pound cheeseburger.) I think that the worse this economy gets, the less people spend, and the less people make, the more rude people become and the less customer service becomes an issue and the more collecting your payments become reality.

    Again, great post. Thanks for making me think like you always do!

  3. Steven:

    Great read. When I pay a greater fee, I expect a greater level of service, but am seldom disappointed when flying under lower fare conditions.

    Oh, and on the cheesburger front? The modestly prided brioche cheeseburger at Street in Los Angeles just overtook the one I formerly held dearest at Father’s Office in Santa Monica.

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