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The Almighty Buck

United Makes Plans to Drop 'Baggage Neutrality' 682

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the too-strange-to-fathom dept.
theodp writes "If you need a clue as to how creative ISP execs might get in the absence of network neutrality, look no further than United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton, who is wowing Wall Street with his willingness to examine new ways to wring money out of the carrier, including making economy passengers pay a fee unless they want their luggage to come last off the plane." Now I think when i was like gold ultimate handjob elite years ago my bags had tags that usually made them come out first, but this seems just kinda crappy. I mean, remember when you got a meal on airplanes? No wonder people hate to fly.
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United Makes Plans to Drop 'Baggage Neutrality'

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  • TANSTAAFL (Score:5, Informative)

    by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:18AM (#21062743) Homepage Journal
    First, the article saya the CEO of United "wants to pursue everything, from a merger to charging passengers who want their luggage to come first off the plane" (emphasis mine). That's a far cry from the article title which infers it's a done deal.

    Deregulation brought about intense competition in airline fares. The flying public wants to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. As a result, the airlines have been under continued pressure to reduce costs to stay competitive. This has resulted in charging for meals and in some cases, even pillows.

    ISP's are in a similar boat with respect to intense pressure on keeping prices low. It's only a matter of time before they figure out how to charge additional
    fees for "extras". You get what you pay for.

    Oh, and you still get "priority" tags on your bags for being an elite frequent flyer. Whether or not your bags come out first though is strictly a matter of chance.
  • Yeah, service ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:24AM (#21062775)
    I just flew both American and United this past week. American gave me a mixed bag of sticky dried stuff, and United offered to sell me a "snack box" for the princely sum of five dollars ("Buy-Onboard service", they called it.) Both offered a free soft drink, so I suppose that's something.
  • by Hangtime (19526) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:29AM (#21062827) Homepage
    Submitter has never worked in the airline industry before.

    You will notice bright orange tags as they come off the converyor belt in baggage claim. Those tags are for GS, 1K, Premier Exec, Premier, *Gold, and *Silver. The idea is that you alert ground crews to the bags belonging to the best customers so that they will offload those first. This is no different from AA, Delta, USAirways, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, and every other airline that flies. All Tilton wants to do is offer this service as an add-on so if you are NOT an elite member and feel it necessary to get your bags off in a hurry (tight transfer in ORD or LHR perhaps) you can purchase that service.

    *wacks subby over the head*
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:5, Informative)

    by ChrisMaple (607946) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:38AM (#21062889)
    To a certain extent, airplane baggage systems are LIFO. That guy who just barely got to the airport on time has his luggage put in last, nearest the door. When the luggage comes out, the container nearest the door comes out first. The poor planner wins, either oblivious to his good fortune or proud of his slipshod actions.
  • by Hangtime (19526) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:57AM (#21063005) Homepage
    I'm seeing a lot of anger and discussion as to why are airlines *cheapening* the flight and do all of these things like what United does with Economy Plus or Continental and Northwest charging for exit row. So let me bring you into the world of US domestic air travel.

    Domestic air travel is one of the five most price elastic products avaliable for purchase today. This means when you go on to Orbitz we all charge practically the same thing. Internal tests in the airlines have proven that a $5 difference in airfare will dry up your demand. So, no people for the most part say they want everything but time again have proven through actions that they will only buy for the most part on price. International flights are a different story.

    Price, Schedule, Frequency in that order is how people buy airfare. The idea now is to shrink the price as much as possible and try to recoup through the difference with ancillary revenue streams. This is why you see such things as purchase of Snacks on Board, charging for pillows, SkyBus and RyanAir charging for everything. People complain about buying a $5 meal on the plane but you can create a better product and for most part people realize they will pay $10 in airport for the same caliber of meal.

    Since the industry is so price sensitive it is trying to debundle the product. It costs money to serve meals and when you make as little as $200 on a flight from JFK to LAX TOTAL, you have to find other ways. So what do we do, we try to offer things that people are willing to purchase. Economy Plus 5 additional inches of leg room on most United flights...it makes a big difference when you go cross-country or across the ocean. Purchase an Admirals Club ticket from AA for $35 for the day so you have a place to shower and change because you can't check into your hotel in London until after 4:00 PM but you got there at 10:00 AM.

    Programs like giving luggage priority to the customer that flys 1 or 2 times a year is to give customers what they want (a lower flight price), but also for those folks that want something extra a place where they can purchase it.
  • by Erris (531066) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:58AM (#21063013) Homepage Journal

    You get what you pay for.

    Sometimes your money vanishes into a CEO's private yacht.

    United is a prime example of an unethical company that fails to meet any of it's three primary responsibilities: customer service, job security, and investor return. It does not matter that this "plan" to screw customers is not a fact yet, because United customer service is already the pits. How could it be otherwise when the employees are demoralized by games like this:

    In an Oct. 15 letter to United's board, the president of United's flight attendants union questioned why the company is mulling selling assets that it insisted were vital during its three-year stay in bankruptcy. "It has only now become clear that the sale of these assets is not only a viable option, but that a timely sale would have avoided the need for severe concessions and, perhaps, avoided the bankruptcy altogether," wrote Greg Davidowitch, president of the United master executive council of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 17,000 United workers.

    One of the "concessions" was the elimination of employee pension plans. Bankruptcy, of course, screwed investors. It's little wonder that United is often mentioned when I hear bad travel stories. Please do not talk to me about regulation to protect such scumbags. The kinds of things United is accused of are crimes that should be punished.

    The other half of TANSTAAFL is a free market. Without that, there's no such thing as a fairly priced sandwich lunch. Glenn Tilton is lucky there's air on the other side of most doors.

  • by pla (258480) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:59AM (#21063019) Journal
    I've never traveled by train, just taken tourist-type train rides.

    Travelling by train actually pretty much rocks, if you don't need to get across the country in three to five hours (or cross an ocean, obviously).

    They don't pack you in like sardines, you frequently have real tables and comfy seats (as in, you can face your travelling companions and play cards or something), you can move about (pee, go to the bar, etc) whenever you want, usually no assigned seating (which could count as a downside, but usually the non-commuter-trains have so few passengers you have all the choice you could want)... For a vacation rather than a business trip, I'd highly recommend going by train - And as a bonus, you'll actually see the country rather than seeing clouds.

    Of course, like the rest of our lives, we Americans even make our leisure time a non-stop rush-rush-rush flurry of activity. Get "there" as fast as possible, then lose more sleep than normal trying to visit every point of interest in a 100mi radius of our destination. Thus we have the phenomenon of needing to come home an extra day before resuming work because we need to crash from what we call "relaxation".

    Sad.
  • Re:EasyJet/RyanAir (Score:5, Informative)

    by allcar (1111567) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:26AM (#21063191)
    The low cost Airlines are actually being taken to task for the lack of transparency in this approach. The problem is that they are advertising flights at a specific price point, but it is never possible to actually travel for that price. I was particularly annoyed by a recent Ryanair flight. Checking in each item of luggage cost an extra 10GBP, so the wife and I thought we would save a tenner by sharing a single case. As it turned out, for checking in without a case, there was still a charge of 4GBP. So the advertised price was not a real price at all. In order to get on the plane you had to pay at least 4GBP over the advertised price, before you even start to talk about airport taxes and fuel surcharges. I can see no point at all in having a price that does not include check-in, as check-in is compulsory. It's just a marketing game.
    To make things worse, our shared case was overweight, so we ended up paying 25GBP excess baggage - teach me to be a skinflint.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:3, Informative)

    by Skater (41976) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:27AM (#21063199) Homepage Journal
    Ever see the "Dirty Jobs" episode where he's at an airport sorting luggage? There is no way LIFO (last in-first out) would be assured, or even probable. The luggage goes through restackings both to and from the plane, plus on the plane it could be crammed in in any order.

    Moreover, I can't see how the proposed measure would save an airline money - they'd spend far more money on labor doing the sorting than they would earn, I think.
  • by Maudib (223520) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:40AM (#21063283)
    You haven't flown much in the past few years have you? Delta, United, AA all got rid of meals in coach on domestic flights, including transcons. Delta offers a light snack on shuttle flights, and continental offers a horribly bad meal. Some Delta flights have a new program where you can buy a meal in coach.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:47AM (#21063355)
    I'm a frequent Amtrak passenger in the NE corridor, presumably where they have the best service, cheapest rates, and most frequent trains. It sucks. The trains are often overcrowded, and they sometimes substitute commuter-style bench seating cars for the normal cars. The hard plastic seats are uncomfortanle for an hour long commute; try sitting on one for 8 hours. Delays are pandemic; I don't understand how, when you run the same route every four hours, every day, for years, you can end up with hour+ delays on a two-hour run. Crowd control is non-existant at the gates, leading to lots of pushing and shoving and line-cutting.
     
    Cell phone use is rampant, so iPods are mandatory, lest you spend your entire trip listening to 3 or four on-sided conversations from all directions. The club car service is worse than any airline food I ever ate, combined with long lines and captive-audience prices.
     
    Business-class is marginally better, but at a 25% premium that basically just buys you pre-boarding and a free drink.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:1, Informative)

    by pedramnavid (1069694) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:48AM (#21063367)
    Confirmation bias! [wikipedia.org]
  • by Blahbooboo3 (874492) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:59AM (#21063469)
    Huh? I call shenangens.

    I ride Acela (amtrak's NE corridor service) ALL the time between Boston-NYC-DC. I have NEVER seen bench seating in 8 years of travel. I have never seen bench style seating in any Amtrak car ever...

    The cars on Acela are really nice, clean, have plenty of room, and even real electric sockets for laptops.

    Cell phone use is not bad. I rarely get someone rude. AND if i don't like cell phone noise there are QUIET CARS available where cell phone use is not allowed.

    Amtrak does have frequent problems with staying on schedule

    So, with that said, I don't believe you travel Acela .

  • by yelvington (8169) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:02PM (#21063495) Homepage
    0. Dress properly. Leave the metal and piercings at home; you'll just make your security check worse.

    1. Travel light. [travelite.org] If you're crossing the ocean for two weeks, plan to use a laundry.

    2. Avoid connections. If at all possible, drive to a hub airport.

    3. Planeside check on your outward trip. This ensures the baggage monkeys don't lose your luggage. If you failed to follow tip #1, and you must check your bag, be sure you carry with you the basics for an overnight stay.

    4. Check your heavy baggage on the return trip. Barcode scanners track everything in a database in Atlanta. Airlines don't actually lose your luggage, they just misroute it. On the way home that's a benefit: You don't have to carry your bags to your car! They'll deliver to your home, eventually.

    5. Eat a good breakfast. You're not getting fed on the plane unless you're crossing an ocean.

    6. Bring your own entertainment -- a book, videogame, etc. Unless you're crossing the ocean on one of those new 767s with the cool Linux personal entertainment system, you're going to be on your own. On most flights, even if they're showing a movie, you won't be able to see it.

    7. Noise-suppression headphones really do work.

    8. Book early, book online, and select an exit-row seat. Legroom and laptop space will be adequate for a change.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:50PM (#21063899)
    I started flying in 1960 when the whole US industry was regulated -- for its own good. There was no hub-and-spoke system. The whole nation was well-covered -- a ticket to Podunk, Iowa didn't cost $1000 simply because it was a low-traffic route. A ticket from A to B cost the same on ANY carrier.

    Part of the reason that flights to Podunk didn't reflect the cost of service was that the longer flights subsidized them - Congress pressured airlines to keep service to their districts, in exchange for a price structure that allowed the airlines to make up for losses on other flights. Not very efficient.

    Because they couldn't compete on price, they had to compete on service, and the service was damn good. Decent food, bigger seats than now, toys for the kids, free decks of cards, pens, and note-paper for the adults. A single thunderstorm in Chicago didn't screw up the whole nation. Flight attendants weren't horribly overworked on jam-packed flights.

    You can get that today - fly on an air charter or fractional jet service, as long as you are willing to pay for the service. You actually have more choices today than you did under regulation; at widely different price points.

    Midwest offers Signature Seating (all leather 2 abreast cabins) on many flights but is moving away from that on leisure routes - a good sign that enough people don't want to pay extra for service to make it a viable long term strategy for a scheduled domestic airline. If Midwest could keep a price differential that made up for the lower capacity I bet they would offer that service everywhere they flew.

    Yeah, it cost a lot more in real dollars. Yeah, not so many people flew in those days (they took the train or the bus, duh). But look what would happen if we implemented it now. The higher prices would drive people back to ground transportation, reducing their carbon footprint.

    It would also have a serious impact on our economy.

    Higher prices would also mean companies in the service industry would need staff within driving distance - as opposed to having staff that live where they want and fly to the client.

    Vacation destinations would become more regional since the cost of flying a family of 4 would rise significantly; and driving two days to visit Disney World would become a once in a lifetime (if that) trip for many families.

    Visit families overseas? Forget about it.

    Yes, I remember when you got served on real china in economy class; and the 707 had to land in Shannon before going on to the continent; but in real dollars I can fly the same route in Business Class for the same as I paid then for coach; with about the same level of service.
  • by orangepeel (114557) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:23PM (#21064153)
    That's good to know. Basically I pick up where your travels end (or vice versa). I ride Amtrak's regular train service (no Acela for us folks to the south) from Washington, DC to Raleigh, NC and back every few weeks. I don't know what it's like in the Northeast, but the route between DC and Raleigh is on tracks owned by CSX that Amtrak pays to use. Consequently they've got one more variable that can work against them. Five or six years ago when I started taking this route, delays were rampant and often hit 2 hours. Almost always it was due to CSX working on the tracks. I'm more the relaxed type though, so that never bothered me much. Besides, being on a train where you can get up any time you want and wander around, go to the cafe car, etc., makes a huge difference. A 2 hour delay on a plane would kill me. Anyway...

    Within the past few months, something almost magical seems to have been happening -- the delays have started becoming fewer and shorter. One time this summer I even got to Raleigh 5 minutes early! It seems to be turning out that all those years of delays are finally starting to pay off -- CSX really does seem to have managed to upgrade the quality of their rails on that segment, and as a result, life is getting better for Amtrak and their passengers. Here's hoping this trend is for real and that it continues.

    I know there are a lot of Slashdot readers in Northern Virginia, so here's my advice for anyone who needs to visit the Raleigh/Durham/RTP area at some point. If you want to give Amtrak a try, don't bother going into DC (Union Station). Instead, head to the King Street metro station on the Yellow & Blue Metro lines. The Amtrak station is on the other side of the tracks (just cross over via the underpass). Pay for the Business Class upgrade. It's typically an extra $21 and is worth ever dollar. It gets you a larger seat, more leg room, free coffee and soft drinks, and the most important thing of all -- a 120V AC power outlet. It's supposed to be about 5h 30m from the King Street station to Raleigh if everything is running on time. 6h +/- 15m is more common, but as I say, it seems to be getting better. You'll need to research your options at the NC end of things though. I have friends and family in the area, so someone always picks me up, so the best methods to reach a car rental place from the Raleigh (or Cary or Durham) Amtrak station isn't something I've looked into.

    I think the best part of taking the train is the interesting people I meet. Just in the past few months I've found myself sitting next to a hot biology grad student from NC State, a psychic (that was an interesting ride!), and a judge from NYC. I don't know why -- maybe it's because all of us are taking a slower form of transit -- but I continue to find that the people I meet on the train are a lot more mellow and just generally interesting than the type of people I meet when I have to fly. It's just all-around less stressful, you know?
  • by lionchild (581331) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:26PM (#21064191) Journal
    If you're on a schedule, rail just isn't a valid option anymore, at any cost. US regulations require that cargo trains give right of way to passenger trains, so they can make their schedules. However, with more and more powerful locomotives, the cargo trains have gotten longer and longer and longer. Now, the typical cargo train is so long, it no longer fits on a siding, while passenger trains have not signifigantly grown in length, and still fit on sidings.

    Therefore, even though cargo trains are required to give way to passenger trains, they cannot do so, because they do not fit on the sidings to allow a passenger train to pass. The passenger train has to take the siding and wait for the cargo train. This results in longer and longer delays on passenger trains. A typical trip from Kansas City to St. Louis should take 4 hours or less. However, the typical travel time is 6 to 8 hours because of being put on side tracks to allow for cargo trains to pass. If you're on a schedule, it's more timely to drive.

    All this is an aside from the ticket prices of taking the train. :-/
  • by NormalVisual (565491) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:18PM (#21064585)
    United, BA and Virgin are generally the easiest alternatives and there's no way I'm going back to BA at least.

    No contest there - Virgin has half-naked ladies on the noses of their individually-named aircraft, after all. The great service is just a bonus.
  • Re:Not a dump truck (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dorceon (928997) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @03:02PM (#21064975)
    Southwest is not the only airline making money. Delta (post bankruptcy) has started turning a profit as they shifted a lot of capacity to more profitable transatlantic routes. Meanwhile, American (which never went through bankruptcy) posted a $175M profit last quarter, which is its sixth consecutive profitable quarter.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:3, Informative)

    by CaptainZapp (182233) * on Sunday October 21, 2007 @03:24PM (#21065163) Homepage

    So, you mean to say that flying with EasyJet and Ryanair costs just as much as flying with, say Lufthansa?

    As a matter of fact: It depends.I can't speak for Ryanair, but Easyjet may not be so darn cheap if you fly on short notice or during a popular period. The trick is to book as early as possible.

    See, even when an airline only sports one class, the cabin for any specific flight is divided into a number of sub-classes. Each of those classes are priced in a specific range and this may fluctuate daily. There's probably not such a perishable product as an airline seat. An airline rather charges 50$, which is 50$ in the till then 500$ for a seat that they can't sell and that also goes for airlines with a good reputation. They will set the price for said seat at 500$ though, if they think that it's sellable at that price.

    There may be other feats connected with higher sub-classes. You are usually more flexible in scheduling and there may not be a penalty when you change your schedule or even cancel the flight.

    Since business travelers require this flexibility, tickets for typical business flight patterns or destinations are usually sold relatively very expensive. Discount airlines are not different in that they want to gauge out the most of a seat for any given flight, as long as this seat doesn't remain empty.

    The good thing though, is that discount airlines generally drive prices down.

  • by Vengie (533896) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @03:27PM (#21065191)
    Illegal? Under Delaware corporate law at least, a company's charter can be whatever it wants. If a company wants to incorporate into its charter that it MUST tithe, that's perfectly fine. Corporate donations (and social spending, i.e. on employees, the community) are far from illegal, they are encouraged (or perhaps even mandatory.) See e.g. AP Smith Mfg. Co. v. Barlow, 13. NJ 145 (1953). [Since you obviously don't know "the law" -- Delaware's corporate law is basically a copy of Jersey's, with lower fees.] Clearly, you've never heard of the Business Judgment Rule. Please don't opine on the law if you don't know it. thanks.
  • by theolein (316044) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @07:10PM (#21066887) Journal
    I fly to South Africa from Europe once a year. I almost always fly Emirates. It's really out of the way and adds on much longer hours, but Emriates:

    Has absolutely amazing staff. Friendly, professional, speak the languages of source and destination country, take their time with difficult passengers.
    Has comfortable, cheap economy seats, with video entertainments systems in each seat back - that work.
    Provides free drinks and fantastic meals. The best I've ever had on any airline.
    The major hub, Dubai, is a large, roomy, comfortable airport with every and any convenience. It has friendly, professional staff. The queues are managable.
    They do not treat their customers like criminals (USA take note), while providing excellent security.
    They are the cheapest airline to fly the route.

    They are not alone in this quality service. Singapore Airlines is just as good, if not better, and other new Arabian Gulf Carriers like Air Qatar and Al Etihad are also competing at this level.

    United Airlines is going to lose any business they have on the routes these other airlines fly if they treat their passengers badly and charge them for things that have been normal part of service... on buses!
  • Re:Not a dump truck (Score:3, Informative)

    by ptbarnett (159784) on Monday October 22, 2007 @12:08AM (#21068547)
    What the hell is "WN?" There is no prior occurrence of "WN" in the thread.

    WN is the two-letter airline code used by the industry for Southwest Airlines:

    http://www.avrefdesk.com/two_letter_airline_codes.htm [avrefdesk.com]

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