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Capt Anonymous: Race to the Bottom

by Captain Anonymous
Guest Column

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Note from Darren: I'm happy to welcome "Captain Anonymous" to the pages of cfidarren.com for his second article.  The Captain is a pilot for a major airline which is considered by many to be the largest in the US.  He holds the position of Captain in a widebody jet, just a few years from retiring, and is now getting things off his chest.  He is considered a very senior pilot at his airline and holds a schedule which has him traveling approximately 11 days per month.  The rest of the month, he spends thinking about the things he now writes here.  A little warning... he can come off as a little opinionated and abrasive.  I would expect nothing less from a true gentleman who's been flying for 36 years.  I am not responsible for his opinions and they may not represent my values or opinions. Welcome Cap'n.

April, 2007

Remember last month I said we're in a race to the bottom. I still haven't gotten everything off my chest.  About these ticket prices.  Smith makes a point in one of his articles, Chasing the Dream, about costs yesterday versus today:

In 1981 it cost $600 round trip Florida to California.  Today it costs $99 each way if you buy on sale.  How is it that every other cost has gone up but airline fares have gone down?   In fact had you purchased something else for your $600, today that same service would cost over $1500 adjusted for inflation.

So instead of charging you the real price for the service provided, we are going to nickle and dime you to death. 

We're charging $2 a bag to check luggage at the curb.  No more pillows and blankets for you (remember the soup nazi?).  Extra service charge to call your airline by phone to buy the ticket.  Overweight bags, $50-100.  No meals.  If your connecting airline is a different carrier, there will be a transfer fee, unless the airline is part of the same airline alliance like OneWorld, Star Alliance, SkyTeam, etc.  Want a meal?  Or a $3 snack box?  We're also charging extra for aisle seats or exit row seats, and charging to travel on an earlier flight.  Its annoying.  Particularly the charge for standing by for the earlier flight.

My airline has hourly flights to some of its destinations.  If you arrive early to the airport, you might actually be able to go on an earlier flight.  And you'd like to go on this earlier flight and guess what...  there is space for you!  My airline could give you that empty seat and it doesn't cost them a thing.  But my airline is going to charge you to stand by for an earlier flight to the same place on the same day. 

If the earlier flight leaves with the 3 empty seats, that's potential revenue lost forever.  We should be begging you to take the earlier flight rather than have an empty seat.  That is a benefit to the airline more than the passenger!  We would get to earn our revenue earlier and at the same time build extra capacity into our system.  Well we're not going to let you stand by for the earlier flight for free.  As a result, you stuck with your original flight which was 100% full. 

Here's the kicker.  Downstairs at the ticket counter, there's a guy who needs to go to the same place you're going.   He is willing to pay full fare just to go on the 2pm flight.  We don't have any room on the 2pm flight because we didn't let you stand by for the earlier flight.  Imagine that!  There's no room for the really profitable ticket we could have sold.  Instead the passenger books a $127 ticket on SouthWest also leaving at 2pm.

Let's put an end to the foolishness.  We should allow our passenger to travel on the earliest flight of the day for their day of travel.  By the end of the day the last flight might have 50 extra seats that we have the opportunity to take overflow from other airlines or as a buffer for delays (weather/ATC/etc).  We should never be taking volunteers (giving them compensation, meals, hotels) on the last flight of the day.

I fail to understand how airlines survive with demands for lower and lower fares, rising fuel prices, and increased security expenses.  Soon you won't even see flight attendants, and we'll be down to one pilot per flight.  Well, you got what you wanted.  Deal with it.  It clear to me that safety and service don't drive this industry.  You've got us so starved, its all about money and its going to get a lot worse.

Next month, I will show you how we've screwed ourself as a country.  You'll be amazed.

Well that's it for this month... lets spool up these engines and get the hell out of here.

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