And word-of-mouth, both good and bad, is one of the most effective ad mediums of all.
So, marketing and branding alone won't do it for the airlines. As we heard all too often last fall, there's only so much lipstick you can put on a pig, especially if a product is seen as "mediocre," like many airlines, as opposed to "good" products, like Coke and Pepsi.
It's not all the airlines' fault. We have an aviation industry that needs fixing, from air traffic control to crumbling runways to oil prices that can fluctuate to insane levels. While some of the infrastructure issues sound "shovel ready," there are no stimulus package benefits for the airlines yet. So, what's to be done?
Might I humbly suggest getting back to the basics and performing those basics perfectly? Let's have reasonable prices, quick and courteous security check-ins, on-time departures and arrivals, timely baggage handling, friendly employees who care (there's nothing like that human touch), along with presentable waiting areas and clean aircraft. Is this really too much to ask?
Maybe it's time for all the airlines to figure out what they do best (what they do right) and concentrate on delivering that special something in a consistent manner. And build ad campaigns that customers can trust.
Yes, the bottom line will always be important, maybe most important, but with imagination and focus, meaningful and valuable differences can emerge. And those differences just might turn into what the public needs and wants, to form beautiful friendships with the airlines.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.