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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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  • by squarooticus (5092) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:25AM (#21062779) Homepage
    Flying sucks because of all the security theater annoyance. I used not to check bags for more than half my trips, but now I have to check a bag every time because I don't feel like going through the annoyance of having my toiletries inspected at the security line. Fuck that shit. I now drive wherever possible.
  • by mdmkolbe (944892) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:29AM (#21062823)

    This doesn't seem like a neutrality issue to me.

    Isn't this closer to a customer just paying for a lower latency connection?

  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rjhubs (929158) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:30AM (#21062829)
    The problem is the moves airlines make don't make sense if they wish to stay in buisness. In a competitive enviroment, buisnesses should be seeking to reduce their costs and increase the value a customer recieves. Charging to get your baggage first lowers the value of the product because while people who pay might get added value, the customer who is still paying the same ticket price gets less value by having their luggage no longer randomly come out. If the airlines were interested in being more competitve the correct move would be to offer flyers a discount if they don't mind their luggage coming out last. Removing meals from planes is the same thing. Reducing costs is only effective if you change the way you act internally and the product the public gets doesn't suffer.
  • by Cracked Pottery (947450) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:30AM (#21062833)
    It is also a stupid idea. It takes more work to prioritize luggage and sort it according to a set of rules determined by the price of tickets than to put the luggage on randomly in a first come, first served basis. You don't usually have to wait that long anyway. The intelligent objective is to load and unload the plane in as little time as possible. Gate time is expensive.
  • by Hawthorne01 (575586) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:30AM (#21062835)
    If they do this, it'll just mean more and more people will try to push the limits of carry-on luggage, rather than pony up for another fee. And we all know how much fun it is to be stuck in the aisle, waiting to get off the plane, while some PHB wrestles a laptop bag and an extra-large "carry-on" from the overhead bin.
  • by martyb (196687) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:34AM (#21062865)
    FTFS:

    ... United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton, who is wowing Wall Street with his willingness to examine new ways to wring money out of the carrier [CC], including making economy passengers pay a fee unless they want their luggage to come last off the plane.

    Let's think this through for a bit. At first, only a couple of people pay the fee. No biggee, and not much impact. Then someone, whose baggage came off last, notices the "priority tag" or whatever they use to identify the "don't take me off the plane last" tag. So s/he now ponies up for the fee from now on. Repeat for a few iterations. Now, nearly everybody has paid the fee, and they all come off just as before.

    EXCEPT when some poor customer has paid the fee, AND his stuff comes off AFTER someone who did NOT. Guaranteed Upset Passenger.

    The real kicker: what happens when someone:

    1. HAS paid the priority fee, AND
    2. UA loses their luggage?

    Yep, sure sounds like <sarcasm>great customer service</sarcasm> to me. With increasingly ubiquitous video cameras, all it takes is a couple of postings to YouTube, a few blog posts, and then the REAL FUN begins!

  • by modmans2ndcoming (929661) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:35AM (#21062873)
    They can charge 1st class tickets more by guaranteeing their luggage gets off first thus making their travel more efficient, and they offer the same service to Economy passengers but the price is not included int eh ticket price so you have to pay more..
  • by dpilot (134227) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:42AM (#21062909) Homepage Journal
    Way back when, flying was a rare novelty, so it was inherently fun.

    Today pretty much everything about it is a hassle, so it's only worth flying when constrained by time, or when other driving just isn't practical. I've done long-haul Greyhound long ago, and to be honest that wasn't so hot, either. I've never traveled by train, just taken tourist-type train rides.

    As an aside, the annoyance starts when you book a flight. My wife has checked it out, and for at least one airline, the magic interval is three-weeks-and-a-day. Booking closer than that, the rates are outrageous. That is, except for a flight with an empty seat that is so close in time that you can't even get to the airport. One thing we've realized is that it appears that they accept new bookings right up to flight time, even for full flights. For the prices they charge for a near-in booking, they can bump someone, give them a free flight at the longer-term booking rates, and still make more money on that seat.

    Then there's TSA, and the overloaded ATC delays, and the overloaded airports, etc, etc, etc.

    Flying is just a way to get from point A to point B when other means won't work out.
  • by fermion (181285) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:45AM (#21062929) Homepage Journal
    What is next, pay extra for not having you luggage damaged?

    Really, there are two issues with this. First, it seems that more people are using carry on anyway. In my experience flying, more carry on reduces the already dreadful flying experience. I see this as a competitive disincentive.

    Second, I wonder if the cost of implementing such a plan, which would require marking and sorting bags, would be less than the additional revenue. This is the same question I have for the ISP. Will the costs of all the additional equipment really justify the additional fees such equipment would impose on the end user. Wouldn't it be better, like the airliines, to impose a fixed limit on throughput, and allow users to pay for more?

  • by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:47AM (#21062947) Homepage
    We've become such an instant gratification society that people bitch if they have to wait a few minutes longer for their luggage? IT'S JUST LUGGAGE! If you are so concerned about getting to your destination on time that you have to get your luggage quickly, how about, oh, I don't know, booking an earlier flight?
  • Can it get worse? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:49AM (#21062961)
    Ever since the increase in "security" after 9/11, I have done everything I can to avoid flying unless it's absolutely necessary. I've gotten pretty good at getting through the security gauntlet without an orifice probe -- playing dumb and cheerful seems to be the ticket -- but even then, most planes make the city bus feel like a luxury limo by comparison and airports seem to have been designed by a retired platform game designer. Add to that the bizarre security rituals, like the TSAA guard in New Jersey who banged my shoes against the floor before declaring, "Nope, no bomb in there," and if I can skip traveling, I will, and if I can't skip it, I'll drive. About the only reason I'll board a plane voluntarily now is to vacation abroad, and even then, I have to ask myself if it's worth the extra-special unlubricated scrutiny you get when returning from abroad.

    So now my bags are going to be delayed a few minutes? Who gives a shit? That's like being told that in addition to being worked over for an hour by mafia goons, someone will now call you a sissy at the end of your beating.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pedramnavid (1069694) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:53AM (#21062979)
    Charging to get your baggage first is the same as offering a discount if you don't mind them coming out last.

    Proof: X is the base rate of a flight with unprioritized luggage delivery. The cost of having prioritized luggage delivery, per person, is Y.

    Now you can either charge everyone X + Y and then offer a discount of Y to those who don't need it, or charge everyone X and offer a fee of Y to everyone who does need it. Either way, those who need it are paying X + Y and those who don't are paying X. However, offering it as an added fee gives the appearance of lower prices, which, if you're trying to stay competitive, is important. Removing meals from planes is the same thing. You can offer lower prices than your competition by not including meals in the base price. For those who don't want cold meat, or who don't eat that crap anyway, it's better incentive. It might make it marginally more expensive for those who do eat the meals (assuming it would cost less per person to have meals prepared for everyone than it would to prepare meals for only those who want it), but it would still be just as expensive if you were to offer the discount-method.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:54AM (#21062987) Homepage Journal
    Or howabout more environmentally friendly and fuel efficient modes of transport, ie rail.
  • The Point Is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by beadfulthings (975812) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:59AM (#21063017) Journal

    You don't get what you pay for, but you're required to pay anyway. As in:

    1) You pay for homeowners' insurance only to find that your particular disaster isn't going to be covered. Just ask the people on the Gulf Coast.
    2) You pay for a utility, like phone or cable, only to find that when you've got a problem or outage, you're without your service--not for hours, but for days or possibly even weeks. (Ever try to get a rebate from, say, your phone company when they take four days to send out a "technician" to spend twenty minutes fixing your trouble?)
    3) You pay ever-increasing costs for your health insurance only to find that a catastrophic illness or accident leaves you in debt for years.
    4) You pay for what is termed "unlimited" Internet services only to find that your ISP is cutting you back because they have a different idea of what constitutes "unlimited."
    5) You earn your money, but you are required to pay the bank ever-increasing "fees" so that they can use it until you need it. In some cases, you even have to pay to speak with a human being (as opposed to an automated system) to receive an answer to your question.

    We're all part of a vast pool of money to be tapped into at will, and the game is to return the bare minimum of value for what we're all willing (or able) to pay. Why should the airlines be any different? An interesting article appeared on CNN [cnn.com] a couple of days ago. It seems the "working poor" are having increasing trouble making that paycheck stretch from one payday to the next--and the term "working poor" is now encroaching more and more into the "middle class." The Big Box Marts are starting to notice an impact to their bottom lines.

    The airlines will find that fewer and fewer people can afford to fly, so they'll focus on ways to wring more out of the people who can still afford to fly. It's not surprising.

  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:59AM (#21063023)
    I've gotten pretty good at getting through the security gauntlet without an orifice probe -- playing dumb and cheerful seems to be the ticket

    I don't even believe half the stories I hear. I've flown eight times this year for work, and other than it being slow, I've yet to see anyone even taken to the side. There's nothing to get get good at. Hell, I was hand carrying a box of A/D converter chips in an ESD bag and it was no problem.

    most planes make the city bus feel like a luxury limo by comparison

    Yeah, but a luxury limo does not cruise at 600 MPH at 35,000 feet and cross the country in 5 hours

    Sorry, kid, but there's compromises in life. I don't get this "Waaaa gimme luxury attitude". More room means bigger, heavier plane means more fuel means why do you hate the Earth? ;-)

    and airports seem to have been designed by a retired platform game designer

    OK, now *that's* funny. One my next flight into Logan next week, I'll totally picture Mario jumping from the arrivials to the departures level.
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:13AM (#21063103) Journal
    When do you not get a meal on the flight? The only times I've not had one has been on very short flights, and they've always had a snack of some kind. It still bugs me that whenever I fly in the USA they charge you for alcoholic drinks (which, of course, you then can't claim on expenses), while every non-US airline I've flown with has included booze in the ticket price (a gin and tonic or two takes all the stress out of flying).
  • by AvitarX (172628) <me@@@brandywinehundred...org> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:15AM (#21063117) Journal
    This is not equivalent to net neutrality.

    The analogous situation to no net neutrality would be to say the destination countries need to pay to guarantee good baggage delivery, so people don't associate them with lost baggage.

    Charging the customer for better service is a perfectly acceptable way to handle getting more money, both the cable and phone companies do it.
  • by goombah99 (560566) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:17AM (#21063137)
    There's a perpetual argument on slashdot that goes like this:
    Lin/Win: Macs are more expensive.
    Mac: No they are not if you configure them Identically
    Lin/Win: okay here's a Dell thats comparable and it costs $100 less
    Mac: You are overlooking the value of a system that works. It's only cheaper if your time has no value.
    Lin/Win: Well I get to choose with my PC, Mac forces me to pay the mac tax whether I want to or not.

    So apparently there's a large number of people, larger than the max zealots, for which saving a dime at the expense of time and frustration is really a consideration. United is catering to that large segment. It's what they want.

    What I don't like about this is that it is going to turn into what economists refer to as "driving the good apples out". This is when one is in a price comparison situation where one does does not have enough information ahead of time to discern on the basis of quality. It refers to why there are more bad tasting apples than good tasting ones in the super market, and it's classic application was to the Used Car industry.

    So when you go to book a ticket on SABRE then you will see united has the cheap flight. It forces the other players to follow unless they can somehow differentiate their service levels. This is why luxury brands never offer a cheap version. They have to maintain a public image that when you buy the luxury brand that you never ever get a bad apple.

    This happens in the cell phone market where players like qwest and verizon advertise the cost without all the fees they lard on it and others advertise the final price (e.g. any pay as you go plan). I'm looking a sunday newspaper and I see qwest is advertising that my internet connection can be just $26/mo (going rate in my rural market is $49). Then the fine print says "with Bundle". And when you add in the bundle you realized they just moved the cost over to another service (3 way calling a value at $10/mo!).

    So there problem with parcelling and bundling services is it can distort the market for quality when the buyer has a hard time or lacks the time to find out if it's a bad apple before they buy.

    The famed economic analysis's conclusion was not that good apples wind up costing more but that the distortion is so severe that good apples leave the market and are not available.

  • by mikeplokta (223052) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:30AM (#21063217)
    Actually, any listed company has only one primary responsibility, which is investor return. Pursuing job security or customer service where those conflict with investor return is not only unethical, it's illegal. Of course, good customer service generally leads to a better investor return.
  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:32AM (#21063233) Homepage Journal

    Charging the customer for better service is a perfectly acceptable way to handle getting more money
    It seems more like blackmailing and gouging the customer if he wants to get any service, including ones that you'd reasonably expect to be included anyway.
  • by AvitarX (172628) <me@@@brandywinehundred...org> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:44AM (#21063317) Journal
    Or,

    It is like offering customers a chance to save money by not even using checked luggage (which I pay for even though I don't use it).

    How is tiers of service price gouging? And why can't I sacrifice decent service for cheaper prices? I do that for everything else.
  • by jotok (728554) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:21PM (#21063635)
    Yep.

    "Hey, my bag came out way after all those people, and I paid the fee."
    "Sir, sometimes our system fails to deliver your bag on time..."
    "Well, give me my fee back. You didn't give me the service I paid for."
    "Our policy is not to return any monies..."

    I always wondered about the "Our policy is..." nonsense. "Our policy allows us to take your money and not give you anything in return; we know this because we wrote the policy." At some point it has to become absolute bullshit.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pedramnavid (1069694) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:27PM (#21063679)
    But prices are not fixed, they're determined by the market, assuming it's free. The greater the competition, the greater the incentive to offer lower prices. The old price included a meal but also reflected the cost of a meal. You might expect that if they stopped offering a meal they would cut the price of the ticket, and this might be true but pretty insignificant and hard to determine. The ticket may now cost you two dollars less (nevermind inflation) than it did when they did offer you a meal but you aren't likely to notice the price difference. However, even if the price without a meal is the same, if your competitor starts to offer the same flight without a meal for less, you're going to have to lower your prices too. In the end, the prices tend to adjust as long as there is fair competition.

  • by WCLPeter (202497) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:31PM (#21063719) Homepage

    Charging the customer for better service is a perfectly acceptable way to handle getting more money, both the cable and phone companies do it.


    You are right about this. The airline doing this has nothing to do with net neutrality. This would be like the difference between someone wanting Dial Up and High-Speed Ultra. You pay extra for the better service.

    For this to be anti-neutrality, the airport you checked in at would charge you a fee when you checked your luggage in, while the airport you land at would charge a fee to get your luggage back right away, or they would hold it for 48 hours.

    The thing is, I see a *huge* problem with having people pay to get their luggage off first. In order for it make the kind of extra cash the CEO is talking about, it'll need to be priced cheaply enough that a significant number of passengers pay the fee.

    When they pay the fee, most people are going to assume their particular baggage will be first down the chute. What happens when 40%/50% of the flight pays the fee? They've all paid to have their luggage taken off "first", yet they get to the baggage claim area and rather than just grabbing and going like they expect, they're *still* standing around waiting because it's physically impossible to get all that luggage off "first".

    I know I'd be pissed off at having to wait when I've been told I'll have priority baggage handling. What are they going to do, park the baggage truck inside the terminal and just have people who paid the fee take their luggage directly from that?

  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Teddy Beartuzzi (727169) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:41PM (#21063813) Journal
    LOL. Great theory except for the mythical "discount of Y" and "lowering of prices once meals were eliminated". There was no lowering of prices, the meals were eliminated in an attempt to raise profits. Just like there won't be a discount of Y.

    The *reality* is that you either receive less for your X, or you have to pay X+Y to get what you used to get.
  • by jimicus (737525) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:42PM (#21063821)
    The European low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet already do stuff like this - you pay for the privilege of being allowed to check in online, checking in baggage, being allocated a seat, being in a queue which gets priority to board the plane, being allowed into the fueselage rather than sticky-taped to a wing. (I made up that last one).

    They solved the "bad publicity" problem in two ways:

    1. Don't know how true this is elsewhere in Europe, but in the UK it's quite common to find that there's only one airline offering a convenient "from my nearest airport to where I want to go" route. So as far as most people are concerned, they have an effective monopoly on the particular route.
    2. They're all as bad as each other so nobody expects using an alternate airline to gain them anything.
  • by pla (258480) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:47PM (#21063867) Journal
    I'm a frequent Amtrak passenger in the NE corridor

    I can't explain our different experiences (I too live in the NE), but I've found exactly the opposite of what you describe.

    I have experienced a few delays (though nothing even close to the BS we have to put up with for air travel), but never more than a few minutes, and when you can sit back and comfortably read a book or play cards with a friend, who cares?



    My true worst-case stories - Last time I flew (Northwest, though I don't blame them specifically, they handled circumstances as well as possible; the problem comes from the entire screwed-up infrastructure), my first plane left and landed on time, but we sat on the tarmac for over an hour because the airport had overbooked their terminals - And of course, no standing, using the bathroom, or drink service during all this. Fortunately I didn't miss my connecting flight, because it left two hours late - from another airport. They finally got us on a plane almost eight hours late - Getting us in at 2:30am on a worknight (and in a town that basically shuts down at 9pm, I pity anyone who didn't have a prearranged ride and place to sleep).

    My worst case train experience, we had to wait an hour because of some sort of construction accident involving the Big Dig (though not directly at it, at that time they hadn't yet opened it). An hour. In comfort. So I had another beer and read another few chapters.



    That said, I would prefer flying, because I admit I don't care to waste much time in the travelling itself. But when the "faster" way actually ends up taking longer, costing more, and has incredibly uncomfortable conditions... Well, given a choice between a flight with even a single layover (good luck with that, unless you happen to live at and want to go to a hub city, or can afford 2-3x the ticket price for a direct nonhub flight), or taking the train... Train wins, no question.
  • by Smallpond (221300) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:48PM (#21063871) Homepage Journal
    The downside of this is that everyone will do what you do, which is cram as much stuff as possible into the overhead bins in order to keep from checking bags. This slows down the security lines and getting on and off the plane.

    It does sound like a protection racket, tho. Maybe next will be:

    "Would you like your bag to be handled extra-carefully? For a small fee we can make sure your bag doesn't get dropped or run over by a baggage cart, or maybe show up with the handles wrenched off. Heh-heh."
  • by snarkh (118018) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:49PM (#21063883)
    So apparently there's a large number of people, larger than the max zealots, for which saving a dime at the expense of time and frustration is really a consideration. United is catering to that large segment. It's what they want.



    What are you talking about? United and other traditional carriers, Delta, AA, etc., are oriented (get most of their money from) toward business travelers and are certainly not the cheapest around. Many people are actually willing to pay a premium to fly them over ,say, Southwest, because of their loyalty programs convenience, etc.

  • Did I say it was taking 12-14 hours for security? Pay attention lad.

    Here's what it comes down to: I don't like flying -- it's cramped and uncomfortable, unable to sit in a way that has my knees /not/ touching the seat in front of me; parts of my body falling asleep that really shouldn't be; sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with other passengers (strangers), like so much tuna in a can. Add to that it smells bad (and worse depending on what my neighbor has eaten recently and if he is a mouth-breather) and is filled with mind-numbing white noise from the jets. Then we have the 'meal' service because my fellow passengers couldn't possibly live through a three hour flight without their bag of chips and a soda, so I get to be jostled and poked while people jam unappetizing food in their mouths like so many obedient chimpanzees.

    Compare that to driving -- something I enjoy doing, in a car that is roomy, without a loud-ass jet in my ear, able to listen to music or whatever the hell I want to listen to, without needing to worry about inconveniencing someone jammed in next to me. I can relax and enjoy the ride. If I actually get hungry, I can stop for a few minutes and get real food.

    When you combine the essential unpleasantness of the flying experience with the general hassle around security (why the fuck should I have to feel like cattle being herded just to board a plane? Anyone with half a brain can come up with ways to conceal a lethal device that TSA hasn't thought of yet -- who the hell do they think they are fooling with this charade?), it simply is not worth it.

    Yes, it takes longer to drive. Sometimes it takes several hours longer. But quite frankly, it is less expensive*, less stress, and more comfortable by far. It's worth the tradeoff for me, in a way that an hour of added "security" is /not/ worth the 'privilege" of being able to get on a plane.

    And the most frustrating part is the cattle like you -- the people who feel that the "security" precautions are reasonable; and that the tradeoff in simple human dignity is worth the "convenience" of flying for short hops. Thanks to the vast majority of the public such as yourself being willing to put up with this ridiculous situation, it will never get any better.

    * Less expensive - Flying, average one week trip for me: $300 for a round trip ticket, +$200 for a local rental upon arrival, +$30 in gas. 4 nights hotel. Driving, avg one week trip for me: $200 for a local rental at home (unlimited miles) + $150 in gas. 4 nights hotel.

  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rhendershot (46429) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:01PM (#21063997) Journal

    Charging to get your baggage first is the same as offering a discount if you don't mind them coming out last.


    Define last. 3 hours later? Whenever the h311 they decide to "find" them? At the end of the day?

    The problem is that to do this they have to expend resources (==cost) to sort the baggage and return it in separate queues. They'll either have to charge enough to elite to cover that or make the non-elite incentivized enough that few don't pay.

    Either way it's a lame idea. To be polite....
  • by samweber (71605) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:12PM (#21064089)
    TANSTAAFL might work very well for aged Science Fiction writers, but, alas, not so much in the real world.

    Take an example: Say you and your family saved up to go to have an amazing vacation, including staying at a Hilton near a beach. But, when you got there, you found out that you had to pay $20/night extra to have the beds and towels changed, $30/night for air conditioning, $25/night for hot water, $5/night for each key, and $50/night for use of the elevator to go to the 22nd floor. Would you go back?

    Airlines and hotels are both businesses that respond greatly to the economy. When times are good, people take planes and stay in hotels -- both for vacations and business. When times are rough, people consider vacationing nearby, or driving, and try to stay with friends and family. Businesses try phone conferences. For example, I work for one of the top 15 companies in the Fortune 500, and for six months there has been a complete freeze on all travel.

    So, what are you supposed to do if you are in this kind of business? It is rather obvious: during the good times you squirrel away money for a rainy day fund, and you make your customers as happy as you can. When the bad times hit, you want them to think, "Well, we're low on cash, but we had so much fun two years ago using that airline/hotel/theme park, why don't we splurge. After all, life's short!" During the bad times, you use your rainy day fund, and keep trying to make your customers happy as possible, even with your reduced funds. There are lots of things that make customers happy that don't cost a lot, after all.

    US airlines, though, have been run very poorly. Just after 9/11, the airlines were first in line to get government funding. How and why? Because it turns out that most of them were already either asking for government bailouts, or were planning to. Their stated reason was that fuel costs had risen. But, fuel costs are normal business expenses!

    One of the real reasons was that during the previous economic high, the airlines had not been either saving money, or making customers happy. People had been forced to zig-zag across the country, having little or no food, unpleasant boarding procedures, and horrible service. So, when the times became bad, not only did the airlines not have any money saved away, but their customers actively hated them.

    That's how the real world works in such businesses. TANSTAFL just causes those companies to go bankrupt.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:27PM (#21064209) Journal

    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.


    That is because the commodity of airline transportation is highly fungible [wikipedia.org]. It really doesn't make much difference which flight you take, or which airline, so long as certain basic minimums are met, one is as good as another.

    This leaves the airlines little to compete on except price. So, the CEO is looking for something else. Something not offered by the competitors. SouthWest has had a strong advantage the past few years, they have had newer planes (faster, more efficient) and totally lucked out by buying massive options on fuel before the prices shot up. SouthWest is literally paying as much as 30% less for fuel than their competitors.

    Combine all that with an otherwise 'tight ship' and SouthWest has spread to the entire US [southwest.com], only skipping the "no-man's land" of the north-central USA.

    Point being, SouthWest is competing on price, and it has the mojo. So other companies have to find something else...
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mobby_6kl (668092) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:38PM (#21064289)
    So, you mean to say that flying with EasyJet and Ryanair costs just as much as flying with, say Lufthansa?
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NormalVisual (565491) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:44PM (#21064323)
    Charging to get your baggage first is the same as offering a discount if you don't mind them coming out last.

    Yes, it is. However, how it's *perceived* can make a world of difference, and people are usually more responsive to a discount than an additional charge. For instance, when I do consulting gigs, I charge the customer a hefty fee for not paying on the agreed-upon schedule. Customers generally don't like that, so instead what I do is inflate the base rate slightly, then offer a discount on the billed amount for paying on net 7, a little less of a discount for net 15, and so on. It produces exactly the same result as if I'd explicitly charged them for paying late, but the customers don't whine nearly as much and I get paid on time a lot more often.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Achromatic1978 (916097) <robert@chr[ ]blue.net ['oma' in gap]> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:57PM (#21064425)

    Maybe their trying to get dibs on overhead compartment space?

    I do that, too, now, on domestic US flights.

    Because I am sick. to. fucking. death. of complete assclowns trying to stuff upto and including fullsize bags into the overhead compartment with zero concern for anyone else, just so they avoid having to check bags. I've lost track of the number of times I've had to try to stuff my (small) laptop backpack under the seat in front of me, and twice I had to have the bag taken from me and check it, because people had stuffed the overheads full to bursting point, on a flight that was 80% full, at most. Ye gods. Airlines need to get really pedantic. "If your bag don't fit in this template, it's /not/ going on. It's not going on because we're not wanting you to get pissy about it (because people get very pissy about it), etc, etc. But because, selfish fuckwit, other people have a right to space for their carryons, too."

  • by lawaetf1 (613291) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:59PM (#21064441)
    It's not about service, it's about something more valuable -- my time. I despise that first class passengers get to deboard before everyone else. They pay for bigger seats, better meals, whatever, but they should not get to buy my time away from me.

    This is just another method for separating out the classes. Have money? We'll make your life more convenient at the inconvenience of everyone else. It's one thing to give people better service in exchange for value-add, it's another to create that value by taking from someone else.
  • by tompaulco (629533) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:01PM (#21064455) Homepage Journal
    We need to educate the investor that making $1 this quarter by selling vital assets, screwing customers, and weaseling out of agreed to pensions is no match for the $10,000 you could make in 10 years by treating customers like customers, standing behind your employees and keeping equipment well-maintained.
    Actually, it is pretty much a misnomer to call the modern breed of stockholders 'Investors'. They just want to buy it, run it up and sell it. They are not interested in 'investing' in the company at all.
  • Re:Less is more (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mabhatter654 (561290) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:07PM (#21064495)
    except it's not really a free economy because when the airlines royally screwed up and let their planes be hijacked, the feds didn't let them go out of business and executives go broke like should have happened. Instead the FAA makes all sorts of "regulations" that only make up for executive incompetence (wait for th FAA to make a "rule" about this soon) instead of allowing billion dollar companies to go under when they pull this stuff.

    It's the same as the sweetheart deals they have with telcos to allow spying, or how they "punish" Microsoft, but are still their biggest customer.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pedramnavid (1069694) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:08PM (#21064499)
    A smart terrorist wouldn't get on the same plane with a bomb in it in the first place. I can't begin to imagine why he'd want to blow it up after everyone's gotten off either.
  • by marcosdumay (620877) <marcosdumayNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:15PM (#21064559) Homepage Journal

    "It's only cheaper if your time has no value."

    Of course, that is only an argument if one assumes that Macs work better than the other two, what depends on the kind of use and user the computer will have.

    Inserting a hidden assumption into the argument is a quite used logical falacy... It makes dishonest argumentation looks like it is reliable.

  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xdroop (4039) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:30PM (#21064687) Homepage Journal

    There was no lowering of prices, the meals were eliminated in an attempt to raise profits.
    You can consider the absence of a rise in prices (or, a rise which is not as steep as it otherwise might have been) as a discount.
  • Re:Less is more (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:44PM (#21064805) Homepage Journal

    The government should've let a multi-billion dollar industry go down because terrorists took over a few planes?
    If they had gone out of business, it wouldn't have been because of terrorists, but because they had a faulty business model to begin with.

    I'm pretty sick of people using 9-11 as an excuse for everything from having to bomb Iran to having to wiretap Americans without warrants to giving corporations special taxpayer-funded benefits (only after they make large contributions to candidates, though).

    Let's see, what else is happening with 9-11 as the excuse? Um, how about creating an ex post facto law to give telcos immunity from prosecution for having broken the law (even though the illegal act took place 6 months before 9-11?

    Bullshit. 3000 people die and a nation of 300 million goes belly up?

    Bullshit. We are being played.
  • by ultranova (717540) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:51PM (#21064887)

    Actually, any listed company has only one primary responsibility, which is investor return. Pursuing job security or customer service where those conflict with investor return is not only unethical, it's illegal.

    A company has whatever responsibilities the law dictates, because it is simply a fictitious legal entity rather than a real natural one. There is no natural right to keep on getting profits while being shielded from any consequences - such as jail time - of the actions your hirelings - the CEO, for example - took in your name and with your authorization in the pursuit of said profit. This shield is entirely created and maintained by utilitarian laws designed to promote investment and thus benefit the society. As such, these laws can be altered if needed; specifically, the legally mandated responsibilities of a corporation can be altered if the best of the society so demands.

    Given this, your statement that a corporation which pursues job security or customer service is acting unethically is absurd. Just like copyrights, corporations exist as a part of a social contract; while recent trends have perverted both contracts to the point where they are arguably working against their intended purpose and the good of society, I'm certain that we'll have corrective actions eventually.

    Then again, last time fascism/corporatism rose it cost 50 million dead to put it down, so it might not be something to look forward to.

  • Re:Less is more (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drix (4602) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @06:29PM (#21066627) Homepage
    It never ceases to amaze me how the pernicious nature of a government bailout is completely lost on the average American. Businesses have revenue and they have expenses. Revenue minus expenses equals profit. If profit is negative, then your business model is flawed. No amount of corporate handouts can change this basic, simple fact. It doesn't matter if United is $10 or $10 billion in debt--either they are making money or they aren't. If their basic model is sound, then they should have no problem lining up private financing to bridge the gap. If they aren't, and they have to rely on the government for help, then this should raise a red flag, because the entire private banking industry took a look and said no. Who do you trust more to make sound, rational economic decisions--a bunch of self-interested, economically motivated lenders, or, omfg, the United States Congress? I almost can't even type that without laughing aloud.
  • by Dutchmang (74300) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @06:37PM (#21066677)
    I thought so too for a long time. JetBlue was my oasis in the desert that is air travel insanity. Alas, about a year ago they started to lose the one thing that made them different from the others -- that little thing called "giving a shit." They're just American or United now.

    So depressing actually. My job requires me to travel 100k or more miles in an average year, and has allowed me to see all sorts of wonderful things around the US and the rest of planet (and understand the non-US perspective which is good). But I turn down most of these trips now because air travel is too depressing to contemplate.
  • by Latent Heat (558884) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @07:00PM (#21066845)
    It isn't just meals, and it isn't just bags: getting out of a plane in a wreck and saving your backside also costs you extra.

    Never knew how they allocated exit-row seats, but now Northwest charges for them, either in terms of a cash surcharge or in terms flyer points or one of those "Elite" or "Gold" memberships.

    One thing about exit-row seats is that each of the big exits are "manned" by a flight attendant -- that is what they are there for and anything else they do like get you a pillow or not get you anything to eat in this day and age is incidental. The exit row seats are unique in that they are "manned" by whatever passenger is seated there -- in other words, your safety depends on the conscientiousness of a fellow passenger rather than on an airline employee who at least has had some kind of training.

    Mind you, this exit row thing is a kind of loophole to the safety rules that allows airlines to place revenue seats next to some exits instead of rear-facing jump seat with a flight attendant sitting there. The gummint was OK with this until a few years back that they started to "have issues" with it and issued those rules that the airline had to ask if you, as a customer, thought you were physically fit enough to lift a 40 pound exit door, and the airlines began this lameoid thing of "asking" customers if they wanted to be moved from the exit row -- apparently there are all of these 90-lb 90-year-old grannies who can lift 40 pounds from an awkward angle because no one ever volunteers to leave such a seat.

    AvWeek had a discussion about passengers and exit rows, and the time it was suggested to qualify certain frequent flyers by having them demonstrate that they could operate and lift the plug doors and giving those passengers preferrential exit row seating. The current system, at least on Northwest, is that the exit row is a perk that you can pay for, never mind if you are the kind of jerk who never pays any attention to the safety demonstration or has never looked at a seat card.

    Part of the thing is that 1) airlines have a "don't scare the passengers" approach to airline safety, and 2) most passengers believe that they are French toast in any kind of accident and that the safety info is pointless, and many if not most passengers make a demonstration out of pointedly not paying any attention to the safety drills.

    My own personal perspective is twofold. One is that I lived in Chicago when the 727 jet was new, and pilots transitioning from prop planes lacking the high power-off sink rate of the 727 with all of the droops and flaps down were crumping 727's with alarming regularity. The Chicago Tribune told of one accident in Chicago where after one of these crumped landings, only two people got out, people seated next to exits with the presence of mind to operate them, and the rest of the people died from smoke and not from any other injuries. Secondly, I hold a private pilot certificate and have been indoctrinated in the ways of procedures and checklists. Unlike many other conveyances, airline passengers play an active role in the safe conduct of their flights. Can't be bothered to pay attention to the safety announcements and look at the seat card because you have flown the fourth leg of a trip and have flown hundreds of times? Gee, I guess the pilots can't be bothered with checklists because they have flown thousands of times and must know all of the settings by rote not, don't they?

    So you got fat slobs with frequent-flier privileges who could care less about paying attention to the fact that they are in an exit row and have a role to play in an emergency, and you have the rest of us steerage passengers on the Titanic told we are last in line at the life boats.

  • Re:Less is more (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:25PM (#21067325)

    So, if someone hijacks your car, the government should just let you eat the loss, because you royally screwed up and got out of the car at gunpoint?
    That's a good point. If someone robs you of your car, the government is not going to reimburse you for it. They will try to catch the criminal and you can bring a civil suit against the criminal, but that is it. If the criminal robs you of your car and then drives it off a cliff and kills himself, you are out of luck. You get something between diddly and squat.
  • by whoever57 (658626) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:35PM (#21067385) Journal
    Any airline that won't let you take an earlier flight is just stupid. The later flight may be full and they might have to bump people, or there might be an equipment problem, or a 100 other issues that would mean lost revenue. A passenger flying on an earlier flight is not only a happy customer, it is also revenue earned.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sparky McGruff (747313) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:12PM (#21067611)
    I'm just happy when my baggage comes out at all . Going without luggage just adds that extra touch to a crappy plane flight.
  • Re:Less is more (Score:3, Insightful)

    by oatworm (969674) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:19PM (#21068283) Homepage
    Umm... that's precisely what the government does. What the police do is make a record of their investigation in finding your car so that you can hand it to your insurance agent and they can pay you back for the car, assuming you insured your car sufficiently for such an event. That said, assuming the government actually did pay you back for your car, there's a big difference between reimbursing you for the car and reimbursing you for the car, lost wages from not being able to make it to work that day, and lost wages from the raise you're certain you would've received if only you showed up to work on time that day, which is precisely what the bailout of the airline industry turned out to be.
  • by shilly (142940) on Monday October 22, 2007 @07:07AM (#21070329)
    I would bet that either a large minority or even a majority of flight passenger movements in the US are on journeys that could, in principle, be replaced by a high-speed rail service -- eg up to 5 hours travel time from the centre of one city to the centre of another: there's an awful lot of plane movements up and down the coasts.

    And there'll be another chunk that could be replaced very effectively by high-availability express coach services too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2007 @02:03PM (#21074593)

    Domestic air travel is one of the five most price elastic products avaliable for purchase today.

    In my view, the airlines have mostly themselves to blame for this. After years of situations where people would go on a flight only to find out that the guy sitting next to them had paid $100 less for exact the same ticket, people have become hyper-sensitive to airline ticket prices. Imagine a restaurant that sometimes charges $1 for a burger and sometimes charges $20 for a burger but no one really knows what prices were going to be charged at what times. Most people would choose to eat elsewhere if at all possible but if they did somehow have to eat at the restaurant then they would become obsessed about what price they got charged.

    The best solution to this problem would be to create a free market for airline tickets. That is, let people resell their tickets and even create a regulated market (like the stock exchange) to facilitate this process. The airlines would participate in the market like everyone else and they could release tickets onto the market at whatever times were most profitable for them.

    Another, less drastic solution, would be to simply require airlines to announce their pricing strategies publicly (along with any information used to in the pricing calculations).

    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.

    There are two problems here. First, people don't have time to design every aspect of the flight themselves. When I go to a restaurant and order a piece of pie, I don't expect to pay extra if I want the pie to have sugar in it and I don't want to have to figure out just how much sugar I need to buy for the pie so that it will have an acceptable taste. In the case of airlines, the airlines should figure out a package that will result in a pleasant flight for most passengers and sell that package.

    The second problem deals with the non-average passengers. For example, I did a lot of sports in high school and college and now I'm slightly overweight so my shoulders are broad enough that I simply don't fit in the standard airline seats. I can get an aisle seat and lean out into the aisle but then I get smacked in the shoulder by everyone's hips as they try to squeeze past me. Now, I recognize that I am slightly outside of average body proportions so I wouldn't be opposed to paying a bit more for a slightly wider seat. The problem is, though, that the only way I'm aware of to get a slightly larger seat is to upgrade to first class but then I get charged way more than the incremental cost to the airline in providing a slightly larger seat. That is, a first class ticket is easily twice as expensive but, even if airline costs scaled directly with seat size (which they don't), the first class seats are not twice as wide - and, anyway, I don't need a seat that is twice as wide - just a couple more more inches.

    So the situation as it exists is that I'd be willing to pay a fair price for a slightly wider seat but the price for a slightly wider seat is totally outrageous. If I get the slightly wider seat, I'll be paying extra to subsidize the people in the smaller seats (or to buy the CEO a new yacht) which I have no interest in doing.

    So what happens is that I'm crammed into a slightly too small seat where I'm totally miserable, the people next to me are miserable and the people who try to get by me in the aisle are totally miserable. Everyone around me has a bad time and the next time they think about traveling by air they do everything they can to avoid it. So, yeah, in the short term the airline saves money by cramming people into seats that are slightly too small but in the long term their business shrinks because people want to avoid the unpleasantness of flying. Not only that but when people are forced to fly they are already in a bad mood becaue the whole experience

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