August 05, 2008

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish -- Or Is It?

BACK WHEN FRED SCHWED wrote "Where Are All the Customers' Yachts?" he mentioned one silver lining to the country having gone through the Great Depression. After all, Mr Schwed wrote, are you quite sure you would want all those people who had money to have it again? Like the Depression, the state of air travel is so bad these days one has to start looking at the bright side.

After all, are we quite sure we want all those people who used to fly, back in the good old days, to start flying again? The vacationers with eight obnoxious children? The sweaty fat guys wearing track suits? The rotten scoundrels who made a point of reclining their seats the moment they sat down? I could go on, but you get the idea -- and undoubtedly you have your own bones to pick with certain members of the traveling public, like that guy who insists on loudly babbling into his mobile phone prior to takeoff, even though no one wants to hear his mundane conversation.

Fortunately, our airlines have seen the error of their money-losing ways. As a result, they are steadily making air travel more and more unpleasant for occasional and unseasoned travelers, who cost them money and whom I think all can agree are generally responsible for making air travel suck. The only down side is that the airlines are not doing the smart thing and raising fares across the board.

Instead, many are nickeling-and-dining all their passengers. Were this done reasonably, it might not be so bad; but some airlines -- fortunately not Continental, which I fly -- are charging for the privilege of checking one bag and the privilege of enjoying water whilst on the flight. (For a good list of annoying fees, see here). These fees came to the forefront yet again when JetBlue announced it would start selling passengers pillows and blankets for $7.

Now, I happen not to mind this. For one thing, I have long considered free airline pillows and blankets disease factories only marginally less dangerous than those Lord Amherst wanted to send to Pontiac's troops. For another, I have never used the stupid things, and dislike it when my seatmates do, as they bring the pestilence that much closer. Still, even if there are advantages to getting rid of free pillows and blankets, it seems a bit much to charge $7 for the things. For that matter, it also grates on the nerves when one must pay $5 for a cold sandwich, $2 for a soda, and $4 for a set of cheap headphones.

If you ask me, it would be smarter for the airlines to ... shall we say ... refine their fees. Under my plan, people would be entitled to free meals, free soda, free water, and even free headphones. These would be paid for through the imposition of fees as listed in my Reasonable Airline Fee Scheme, viz. and to wit:

1. PET IN CABIN FEE: $250 for dogs or cats; $500 for anything else, guide dogs for the blind excepted. Note: minors named Jimmy Wilson would be allowed to bring their dog on board for free, provided the dog was named Scraps.

There are few things more annoying while flying than having someone bring his precious pet on board an aircraft. Air travel is supposed to be elegant and refined. Having some selfish, emotionally crippled dingbat bring on board his or her companion ferret detracts from this experience. This goes especially if the dingbat in question does not stow the beast, which probably has rabies, in some sort of portable pet cage, but instead insists that Rory the Rabid Ferret be allowed to do whatever it is ferrets do with free rein.

Now, if you ask me, if you're so emotionally scarred that you always need a companion beast at your side, you probably shouldn't be flying. But if one were to buy everyone on board the flight lunch through paying this fee, I think it would help make things up to the other folks in economy class.

2. MOBILE PHONE FEE. $25 travel voucher to other passengers in same row, $10 travel voucher to everyone on flight.

As I understand it, our engineers believe a limited number of mobile phones could be used in flight provided modifications were made to an aircraft. However, the way air passengers behave these days, it is almost a certainty that someone who used his mobile phone during flight would abuse the privilege. This would thus result in an aggrieved passenger taking the offender's mobile phone and breaking it, or even worse, shoving it up the offender's alimentary canal.

Instead, I propose the airlines auction a limited number of mobile phone licenses -- say, three -- to passengers on board an aircraft. This would allow business travelers who really needed to make calls to make them, while compensating other travelers for the nuisance.

3. UNRULY MINOR/CHILD FEE. $50 per minor or child, levied in advance; refunded at crew's discretion; exemption for minor children under two years of age.

Air travel is supposed to be elegant and refined. This is impossible if unruly minors are rushing about the cabin screaming, crying, hollering and generally causing a mess of things. As a result, the parents of said minor children should pay a $50 surcharge for each minor to allow their children on board the craft, with the fee refunded if the children are good. If the parents are clever, they will take the fee out of their children's allowance, thus giving Junior and his siblings incentive to behave. The fee will be waived for parents traveling with infants, as they're suffering enough.

4. PROPER DRESS CREDIT/IMPROPER DRESS FEE. $10 travel voucher for every passenger wearing business or conservative travel attire. $100 fee for anyone wearing a T-shirt with a kitschy or obscene message. Note: this fee would not apply on flights to Las Vegas.

People generally behave better if they are properly dressed. This is because they do not want to ruin their good outfits. It is also because, in some fashion, the clothes make the man -- a man wearing a good suit is more likely to behave properly than a man wearing a T-shirt with a message relaying a coarse sexual innuendo. As such, people wearing business attire -- or comfortable but respectable leisure clothing -- would get a discount, while the guy wearing the "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt would be heavily fined.

5. RECLINING SEAT FEE. A quarter sounds good, don't you agree? Yeah. A quarter.

Unless the person in back of them is more than six feet tall, in which case the passenger should pay $50 to the person whose knees he is about to crush.

6. INCONSIDERATE SCHMUCK FEE. $1000 on-the-spot fee levied against passengers who force an aircraft to be delayed, to return to the terminal, make an emergency stop or take other action because they're complete asshats.

This fee would be levied against any stupid get who incessantly argues with the cabin stewardesses, smokes in the bathroom, forces other passengers to restrain him, or takes other action that completely ruins the travel plans of the other passengers on board the aircraft. This fee would be assessed in addition to any federal or international laws in force during the flight, and would be due immediately -- payable via credit card or in cash, if the person has the cash on them. The money would then be raffled off among passengers in whatever manner was deemed necessary to restore order.

These six convenient ideas are merely a starting point for a conversation on fixing air travel -- because if it isn't fixed soon, we might find the airline industry re-regulated. That would have its upsides -- I recall traveling to Puerto Rico as a boy on a massive jet that had all of FIVE passengers on it -- but I have a feeling the downside of paying $600 or more per ticket would probably outweigh those.

Probably. We'll see.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 5, 2008 10:51 PM | TrackBack

Mr. Kepple -

Those [EXPLETIVES DELETED] are still flying, though.

And the Reclining Seat Fee should be higher. Much higher.

Either that, or the Inconsiderate Schmuck Fee should be applied to anyone who reclines their seat before the airplane leaves the terminal.

Posted by: UtahMan at August 6, 2008 12:01 PM
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