Today's news that, apparently, American Airlines have decided to withdraw the arrangement whereby those unexpectedly bereaved could fly home without breaking the bank to do so, perhaps doesn't come as a huge surprise, given the curious lack of correlation between customer service and flying in the US.
The reason given is linked to the recent merger between American and US Airways (probably my least favourite airline) as, it seems, US Airways didn't offer such a deal - not a huge surprise, frankly. And so, reaching for the lowest common denominator, American have withdrawn it.
Now I do see the scope for abuse, and yet American had thought that it was worth it, presumably as a means of generating some goodwill and displaying a little compassion to those experiencing personal loss. And now they don't, and in doing so, they risk the accusation that the only thing that really matters is the bottom line. In a genuine market, little things like that create brand loyalty, but with the number of big players in the US airline industry reducing slowly but surely, and some routes now without meaningful competition, I guess that someone thought that it wasn't necessary any more.
And that is the problem with markets, especially ones that don't work very well. As effective monopolies emerge, the idea of customer service as a relationship between provider and customer tends to fade. After all, what choice does the customer really have?
It is an issue that has affected us here too, in that the benefits of contracting out public services have been increasingly dissipated as the number of companies capable of servicing big contracts has shrunk. We have contractual obligations, not service, as the humanity is slowly stripped out as an unnecessary and unprofitable extra.
As for American Airlines, it will probably make little immediate difference to their bottom line, and someone somewhere will get a bonus for the suggestion. And a little glow of kindness in an increasingly impersonal world will have been extinguished forever...