Wednesday, July 15, 2015

1512 Buckle Up for a Bumpy Ride

Old joke:  Guy walks up to the airport ticket counter, asks for a ticket to Los Angeles but “send my luggage to Toronto, Baltimore and Atlanta.

Ticket clerk: “Oh, we can’t do that, sir!” Reply: “Why not? You did it last month.”

There’s nothing funny about air travel anymore. Not since they swapped out the chairs for Graco “My Ride” kiddie car seats only with less padding and reconfigured the leg room to suit the comfort of no one taller than 4’9”.

Not since fuel costs fell 40% leading to an almost equal percentage rise in ticket prices.  Not since they figured out they could charge you extra for stuff that used to be free… like when the oxygen masks come down during turbulence. Not since it became cheaper to send your luggage ahead via UPS than to check it into the cargo hold.

Sooner or later they’re going to find a way to cram 1200 passengers into a standard size Dreamliner.  Oh, and reduce the crew size from 15 to eight.
Deregulation was supposed to increase competition, lower prices and boost on-time performance.  But what it did was reduce the number of operating major airlines from about ten to the present four.

It would be fun to blame this on Reagan.  Fun, but inaccurate. It wasn’t Reagan, it was Carter.

(Nixon briefly considered breaking up IBM, but learned from the chaos, service declines and price increases brought on by the dissolution of the Bell System and changed his mind.)

So, four airlines.  Four thousand destinations.  40-thousand variations in ticket price.  Brilliant.

Are they doing this by having their CEOs combine in a golf foursome using fake I.D., then deciding how to next further the causes of rising prices, lagging service and crowding?

There’s good reason to believe something like that happens.  But probably it doesn’t.  Lockstep is so ingrained in the airline culture they don’t have to conspire.

You recall that when, say, United raised or cut fares from New York to Chicago, so did everyone else.  Usually within hours.

The feds will investigate all this.  They probably won’t find any false-name foursomes.  They’ll report a clean bill of health and no evidence of a conspiracy.

And the airlines will continue with their sorry chant:

We lost megabucks in the 90s.
Shareholder value. Shareholder value.
We’re making up for it now.
Executive compensation. Executive compensation.

Meantime, if you’re average height or higher… if you’re average width or wider... If you’ve checked your luggage and failed to bring your own cardboard meal and are facing time pressure… fasten your seatbelt. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

-Business class is a little better than steerage, but only a little.

-First class remains more or less okay, but you have to take out a second mortgage to buy the ticket.

-Is it kosher to tip the Skycap with Swiffer coupons?

-The longest distance between two points: the terminals at Dulles/Washington (also winner of the worst customer service in America.)

-The shortest distance between two points that takes the longest to traverse: A mid-cabin seat with 100 people ahead of you struggling to get their stuff out of the overhead bin.

-The shortest distance between two points that starts on land and ends in water: A tie between the diving board at the YMCA and any runway at LaGuardia.

-The scariest thing you can hear at an airport: the paging system calling your name.

-The biggest lie you can hear at the airport: Flight 2308 will be delayed, but only a few minutes, while we wait for the plane to come in from Colorado Springs.

-Biggest lie you can read at Miami International Airport: Hablamos Ingles.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to

© WJR 2015

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