Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Where did the time go?

Mea Culpa, life took precedence over my blog, and if anyone still checks, I do still live. I won't try to catch everyone up. Too much work. Suffice to say there are new treasures from the kids and new trials at work.
So instead I will harp on my favorite whipping boy, the airline industry. I just flew out to California and back, and as usual, it was not the most pleasant process. They lost my luggage...sigh.

I will grant that I am not sure how the Airline Industry stays afloat. It seems like with the few people that they can cram onto a plane, and the cost of fuel is is a losing process. The recent spat of Chapter 11 bankruptcies seems to support that idea.

All the same. I would have more sympathy for them if (a) they were not one of the most heavily subsidized industries (far more than Railroads for instance), (b) they sold their product/services like any other industry, (c) they had human sales people.

(a) Apart from direct subsidies, airlines benefit from a tax payer support Air Traffic Control system, Security, and a wide variety of other government freebies. Were they to pay for those themselves, the costs bourne by the individual flyer would be quite high indeed. Of course, the vast majority of flyers are businessMen. Do they really need government handouts?

(b) I am not sure there is any sense to the pricing mechanism of Airlines. I understand that they have to respond to regional carriers and competition. Supply and Demand. So, for instance a flight from Raleigh to San Francisco (fairly high demand) is less expensive than a flight from Raleigh to Charlotte (fairly low demand). Despite the costs of such flights being much lower. While demand should have some role, you would expect supply (costs) woudl also have some role as well, yet it is not clear that it does. Aside from that however, there are more pricing puzzles.
If you were poll the eight people sitting around you on a flight (all in the same compartment) you would probably get 8 different prices for the flights. That is a little odd to me. I find that I can get as many different prices on a particular flight as there are ways to check for the price. What would happen if the prices were set for each leg, and we all paid the same? How can they justify charging me $400 and you $500? How can we be sure they are fixing prices for regions (keeping some groups off the flights) without some publicity about their prices?

(c) People used to book flights through Travel Agents. I am having trouble even finding a travel agent in Raleigh. None of the local ones have friendly web-pages. Apart from that, you used to be able to call the Airline directly and ask for some help arranging a flight, getting help with children etc..
My attempts to call United Air (I have frequently flier miles) have resulted in a connection with a computer, which is even less user friendly than their web site. Either they deluge you with options (pick the outgoing flight from this list of 20) or two few. You can fly out through Charlotte, but not back through it. I like to pretend that there is a person their with an override button somewhere who you could ask "hey can I get a flight from X to Y through Z, in the morning, with seats on the bulkhead so our car seats will fit?" but it is almost impossible to do that. It is infuriating. I don't know if a travel agent can help me. But soeone should be able to .


At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear steve-o,

i am delighted to let you know that i have been checking your blog, almost daily since your last post (and let's not dwell on the mighty restraint exhibited by yours truly from posting *STALE* type comments :). you are too far away for someone i talk about several times a week.

anywho... give a heads up next time yer in california... (and sociable :).

glad yer back.


At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey steve!
Travel agents used to get fees or commissions from airlines for booking flights. Last I heard they didn't anymore, or it was very low. I don't think being a travel agent is cost-effective any more.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger jeff said...

I'll second Lex's comment--I've been religiously checking back, hoping for stories of kids learning things and of the wonderment that is teaching philosophy. :)


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