Airlines are like politicians. If the claims they make are non-binding (and very few are binding, even more so in a post-Ginsberg world), and they want something — a merger, or just customers to swallow a change without defecting and pulling business — there’s little incentive to keep their word.
This is strange in a way. We expect that airline customers are repeat customers, especially an airline’s most valuable customers. So in this iterative game it would make sense to maintain trust.
But consumers overall buy on price, have a low opinion of airlines generously, and repeat customers behave like Charlie Brown to the airlines’ Lucy who keep putting the football in front of us, in a triumph of hope over experience.
The latest example comes from Delta, which committed in its merger with Northwest Airlines that it would keep Northwest’s Memphis hub. The merger was even supposed to bring more international flying to Memphis.
Delta has now announced that it is cutting the number of destinations it will serve from Memphis all the way down to 13. And three of those are seasonal.
Memphis was once a busy hub for Delta, which inherited the base via its 2008 merger with Northwest. Delta flew as many as 240 flights per day out of Memphis in June 2009, including a flight to Amsterdam. But the company has been ratcheting that number down ever since, culminating in a decision to “de-hub” Memphis in 2013.
Conditions change, and Delta would certainly continue flying out of Memphis if they found it profitable to do so. I don’t blame them for taking this decision.
But it was entirely predictable when Delta and Northwest merged. The striking thing is that they pretended otherwise, and some people believed them.
United eliminated its Cleveland hub this year despite merger promises it would not do so. Although they maintain their relationship with the Cleveland Browns…