I get the role of unions trying to obtain the best contracts for workers.
But I have a really hard time understanding the latest tactics by the Transportation Workers Union Local 577, which represents flight attendants for Allegiant Air. The union is trying to negotiate the first union contract the Las Vegas-based airline has ever had.
Last week, the TWU published a “Truth-in-Pricing” Guide explaining Allegiant’s strategy of offering low base fares on flights but tacking on fees to increase the total cost of the ticket.
For years, airlines offered bundled pricing on plane tickets, charging passengers one fare to get them and their stuff from Point A to Point B.
Allegiant doesn’t do it that way. It charges passengers extra for amenities such as specific seats on a plane, baggage, even small carry-on bags. Snacks and drinks, a free staple on most airlines, cost extra on Allegiant.
But its base fares are among the lowest you’ll see.
And it’s not like the union is delivering a revelation to the public. The media routinely report on Allegiant’s business model, and customers who are unhappy about the policy often gripe publicly.
Allegiant says it charges people only for what they want.
The union’s insistence in portraying the strategy in a negative light is counterproductive. The company’s end game is to get as many people as possible to fly Allegiant so the airline can grow, pay shareholders and, oh yes, pay employees higher salaries.
This may be an old-school way of looking at things, but it seems employees have more to gain by explaining the strategy than by tearing it down.
I asked Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher about the flight attendants’ tactics. He acknowledged that the contract process has been frustrating, but he believes the airline will get through it.
“Our flight attendants are valuable employees, just like every other group in this company,” Gallagher told me. “They’re critical to our success. As for the unionization, I’ve been on record as saying I don’t care for third parties being involved in our business. Having said that, we have a legal requirement to do what we’ve got to do, and we’re living up to that.
“It’s business, and part of the tactics of these third parties is to do things that try to get a rise out of us and to somewhat embarrass us ... or get our attention. We’re mindful of those things. You just kind of roll your shoulders a little and say, ‘Really?’ We’ve been doing this for 2 1/2 years with them, and we’re at a bit of an impasse over some technical issues, but we’ll get through it. We have a great future, and our flight attendants are part of that future.”
The “Truth-in-Pricing” Guide isn’t the first tactic the TWU has used to get management’s attention. It also built a website, WillAllegiantBeThere.org, warning travelers about Allegiant’s propensity for abandoning routes that aren’t profitable.
That policy, too, has been widely reported and makes sense. Why concentrate on a destination that’s struggling? There are plenty of other markets that could work better.
Frankly, if more airlines considered some of Gallagher’s strategies, more airlines would likely be profitable. And that would mean more competition and lower fares for all of us.