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January 11, 2008

the joy of flying

(Gate 44, Washington National Airport): In December and January, I've taken 20 separate flight segments for family reasons and/or business. Two flights have been canceled outright and at least another eight have been seriously delayed. I guess nothing could be more boring than complaints about "the airlines." Still, I wonder:

1. Does anyone review an airline's decision to cancel, rather than delay, a flight? I presume that a delay costs the airline more money, because it has to be pay overtime and perhaps divert an airplane. A cancellation, however, costs the passengers much more--not only time, but also cash for wasted airport parking, ground transportation, food, etc. Canceling a flight that could instead be delayed--thereby shifting costs to the customer--should be penalized. Right now, we can't even get reliable information about why flights are canceled.

2. What's wrong with the market as a whole? Why doesn't a competitive market produce more reliable service, at least by some of the major carriers? This is not a rhetorical question--I believe that markets sometimes work and sometimes don't, and we should be able to diagnose the reason for failure in this case.

On a couple of occasions, I have fantasized about massive civil disobedience by passengers. For example, one morning, I pictured the enormous line for check-in at Dulles sitting down and refusing to budge until the airline started to issue apologies and vouchers. But the difference between a sit-in and ordinary service would have been difficult to detect.

January 11, 2008 9:01 PM | category: none


Believe it or not, I once successfully organized a passenger "revolt."

My father and I were flying back from Denver to NYC. Our flight was mysteriously delayed for several hours, as other flights by the same airline came and went. Just after the last scheduled flight of the day left, they started some mysterious commotion. When I asked what was the problem, they said that the NY-based crew was reaching the union rules for number of hours on duty. The upshot: although our plane was now ready to go, some union representatives were coming to shut down the boarding process and enforce union rules.

I loudly said, "We've done everything you've asked, and now you need to give us a chance to get home today!"

This made all the passengers bristle, because they realized that what the implications were.

I went on: "You say we have 15 minutes to board, get in our seats and close the door? We can do it!"

With the help of the flight attendants, we lined up all the passengers row-by-row from back to front. We got in the plane and got the door closed in time to prevent the union rules from kicking in, took off, and arrived that day in NYC rather than having the flight cancelled.

A flight attendant came up to me on the flight back and said, "Thank you. I have never seen anything like that and we would all have been stuck in Denver if you hadn't said that."

January 12, 2008 12:54 PM | Comments (2) | posted by Michael Weiksner


I have been on Southwest airlines over 30 times in the last 6 months and only been delayed once. No cancellations.

The market does adjust. The only airline that has been making money for the last 5 years is Southwest. They offer a pleasant experience and for the business traveler they are reliable. The only question is why we won't let other airlines go out of business or merge.

I think Southwest's success is mostly in the underlying infrastructure. Only one kind of plane so maintenance and repair is simplified. Every plane, every experience is the same. People and parts can go mix and match easy. Any crew knows any plane. Anyway, their story is well known, but it keeps working and I am a converted big fan.


January 15, 2008 8:45 AM | Comments (2) | posted by mooredp

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