Something I Have No Right Whatsoever to Complain About

Filed under:Not Cool — posted by Anwyn on April 3, 2008 @ 4:07 pm

Okay, there’s one tiny part of it I may have a right to complain about, but it doesn’t come until the end.

My dad was a pilot at a regional airline, feeder to a major airline, which was eventually bought by the major airline. He’s retired now, but he and his immediate family retain flight privileges. He and my mother fly free; my sisters and I fly for a certain amount per mile (I don’t know what it is; their computers just calculate what it costs us to fly from point A to point B and it’s always the same for any given points A and B). In addition, we can buy a limited number of “Buddy Passes” at similar prices, though slightly higher, for anyone we like to travel with us.

Two catches: The travel is standby, and priority (the part where we sit at the gate with pale faces and shallow breathing while the agents calculate how many standbys they can put on board and which ones it will be) is determined by hiring date of the employee or former employee (my dad). So somebody whose dad or husband was hired before my dad gets to get on the plane before me, and if there’s any seat left after that I’ll get my chance. But–wrinkle!–Buddy Passes are always of lower priority than the family of the employee. So if I travel with my son, he’s on a Buddy Pass, and he comes after everybody else who is family of an employee, no matter whether they were hired before my father or not. And because he can’t travel without me, I’m bumped down to his priority level. Translation: We are always last or close to it.

Since 9/11, as you can imagine, with drastically reduced routes and correspondingly more packed airplanes, standby travel has been such a nightmare that I’ve largely forgone it altogether, especially with the Bean in tow. Traveling back to the Midwest for this death in Daddyman’s family, we bought one-way tickets, not knowing when the service would be, etc. Mistake. At the very least, son and I should have bought round trips. I decided I could “just fly standby” to get back out, even though I haven’t done this with son for years. Mistake. I’ve been watching the seat numbers get lower … lower … and lower until they’re finally overbooked, while son sits at the bottom of the priority list with Buddy Pass beside his name. Once they’re overbooked, it’s no use to go to the airport, so we stay another day and start the process over again. It’s painful, to say the least.

As I said, I have no right to complain. It’s a privilege to fly cheap, or would be if we could ever do it at all, one that the airline has no obligation to offer us (and a lot of the gate agents for some reason never want to let us forget that, even though their own friends and family travel the same way and presumably are subjected to degrading treatment from their fellow agents). It’s just painful, upsetting, and leaves us with an unpalatable choice of paying hundreds of dollars for a one-way flight or sitting on our butts for a few more days until we can snag a flight that isn’t overbooked and has few enough standbys that my son’s priority will see us through.

But here’s the thing, the one thing I do have some right to complain about. Airlines are running as lean as they can in routes and equipment use because of all the factors you and I both know all about–9/11, heightened security, rising gas prices. So the flights are always full. But worse: I know you know the phrase code share. This is when airlines say it’s their flight but it’s actually on an entirely different airline altogether. So they find it very easy to judge how many flights they should put on a certain route–how many passengers are they having to pawn off on their bretheren airlines? And if it’s not enough to fill a second airplane, why would they put a second flight on the route? Makes perfect economic sense.

But I don’t understand how this is not an illegal monopoly. They are colluding with their fellow airlines to determine capacity, and therefore supply, and therefore price. If the major airline in question only has to pawn off ten revenue passengers per route to their code share partners (oh, how I hate the very phrase), they don’t have to bother trying to market extra flights with attractive prices. And therefore they cram every flight to bursting (literally; overbooking is another practice I despise) and our privileges completely evaporate.

And they are privileges; if they’re gone, well, too bad. But it angers me that they’re gone through what appears from the outside to be a monopolistic business practice that should be illegal under antitrust laws. If anybody can explain that to me, let me hear from you.

Stuff It Up Your Pitot Tube

Filed under:Not Cool — posted by Anwyn @ 8:42 am

I’ve known about this for a while and then read about it at Anne’s and still didn’t post about it, but it really is a ridiculous outrage on top of all the other indignities of airline travel: Only one checked bag per customer or you’ll pay for it, literally. The chart, from the Wall Street Journal, lists the one-bag-only offenders as United and U.S. Airways. Even worse but a little more understandable, a newer discount carrier, Skybus, offers no free baggage–but if that’s been their policy since the beginning and part of the reason why they can offer rock-bottom prices on their as-yet very few routes, that passes the laugh test. But when you’re two of the biggest carriers in the country and charging prices to match, changing the decades-old policy of allowing the baggage to come with the customer seems like economically shooting yourself in the foot. My son travels with a checked suitcase and a checked carseat, and I don’t see that changing any time soon, so United and U.S. Air, kindly shove your money-hoovering policy right up your pitot tube.

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace