Thursday, July 15, 2010

Don't Miss the Connection!

Like many industries the airlines have a lot of baggage.  And like all industries the airlines want the public to pay for that.  The difference is that the airlines are double dipping their grubby fingers in your luggage!
In 1978 the government signed the ticket that deregulated the industry and allowed them to control their own path.  The industry had complained about too much traffic in governmental control towers.  The government told them that if they allow them to take off on their own they had better wake up and fly straight.
For a while there were clear skies but then a touch of turbulence crept into the situation.  The airlines started to raise fares and impose seemingly strange restrictions on passengers.  For example the fare to fly round trip without staying over a weekend day was much higher than if a Saturday or Sunday was passed between the two legs.  One could argue that the passenger was taking up only one seat no matter what day he or she returned to their originating destination but one would lose the argument nevertheless.
Airlines also closed the loopholes clever passengers found to save money such as the ‘hidden city’ trick.
This one went as follows:
Say you had to fly from NYC to Milwaukee Wisconsin and you noticed that your ticket would cost $1,000 without a weekend stay over.  Now suppose you see that a flight from NYC to Madison Wisconsin which stopped in Milwaukee was only $600.  You would have to be an idiot not to purchase the Madison ticket and merely get off the plane in Milwaukee thus saving $400!  The airlines squelched that bit of enterprise by insisting that you board your return flight to NYC from Madison or your entire ticket would be voided!
Why, you might ask would the non-stop shorter flight cost more than the longer one-stop flight?  The party line was that Madison didn’t have much traffic and the airline was trying to promote travel to the airport.  The silent answer was, because we can and if you don’t like it drive!
One of our political parties advocates total deregulation of all businesses.  Their view is the free market is the best way to run an economy.
I agree, if you wish to run the economy INTO THE GROUND!
Businesses are by definition in business to make money.  And the only way they can do so is by selling their product at an ever increasing premium over their costs.  Without regulations businesses will find a way to get together on pricing.  And whether or not they act in a collusive way or their actions are merely coincidental prices will rise across the entire industry.  They will continue to spiral upwards until something breaks or crashes.
Little by little the airlines have all started to add fees to their base ticket prices.  But rather than adding to the prices they have taken a page out of the insurance industry getting the extra cash by subtraction.
Insurance companies kept homeowner rates the same but suddenly told residents that they were never covered for flood insurance.  If the customer wished to have the peace of mind that only full coverage could ensure they must insure against flood damage.  Suddenly the old policy, which used to cover flood damage merely by not being singled out was summarily subtracted from the base and turned into an expensive option.
An airline ticket used to include a meal, I use the term loosely and naturally luggage.  Subtracting the food and adding menus to the flight brought in a little more revenue, and a lot less need for antacids.  Next subtraction was your luggage.  Tickets were on their way to a logical conclusion of merely allowing you onto a plane.  Oh, you want a seat too???
Allowing businesses to fly free from all regulations has been shown to be imprudent.  Fortunately the government has woken up and is noticing the trend of fee for this and the fee for that cafeteria style of air travel that is making the hidden costs more expensive than the known ones.
The airlines counter by saying that the flying public is benefitting from the extra fees by being afforded lower ticket prices!
And they figure to get away with this ridiculous argument?
The extra and excessive fees must be placed in a holding pattern.
The Republican mantra of Business business uber alles is as wrong now as it ever was.  Some regulation is unfortunately necessary since human beings and corporations by extension are naturally greedy.
Right or wrong we measure our individual wealth by comparison.  But how much is enough or for that matter too much.  To use the phrase, ‘what the traffic will allow’ is naïve when no system of red lights is in place.
The scales must be kept in a fair range lest they tip over and spill one side out onto the ground.   And that will be a landing nobody walks away from!

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