CarryingOn didn’t say it, so hold off on the protests for any political correctness infractions, but in case you didn’t see it, this was reported today in the Sky News http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/airlines-charge-fat-passengers-more-014228613.html
Seemed a Dr. Bharat P Bhatta, writing in this month’s Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management, suggested it, and offered one of three formats for its deployment:
- Fare according to weight
- Base fare plus/minus an extra charge for heavier passengers
- Same fare if the passenger has an average weight, but discounted/extra fare for low/excess weight below/above a certain limit. This option results in three types of fares: high fares, average fares and low fares.
After reading the article, my mind was racing with blog post possibilities. But in this day of political correctness I was hesitant to tackle such a heavy topic. Some confidents warned, “Don’t chance it man, you must ignore the temptation to weigh in”, but throwing caution to the wind I replied “fat chance of that happening, I must engage”.
In my opinion, this one is a no brainer.
Aircraft fuel consumption is based in large part on the weight an airplane carries. The more weight the more fuel, ergo the more cost for the airline. So the rules of economics should hold here. You bring more weight you pay more and in fact, the airlines have already starting doing this with their checked bags policies, and now it’s time to get to the people.
But beyond the economics which are pretty easy to defend, there are other more personal reasons.
C’mon you know what I’m talking about, you’re just afraid to say it. How depressed do you get when you make you way to your seat and see a seat mate of size (was that the best PC way to say what I just said?).
The guy has put the arm rest up and given he is already encroaching halfway onto your real estate, there isn’t much you can do about it but slink your way in. It’s impossible to avoid contact, and after not too long you notice that the guy’s body seems to be throwing off the heat of a blast furnace, and you actually start to perspire three minutes into a four hour trip.
And that’s if you have an aisle and he has the middle, or heaven forbid you have the middle. What if you have the window and this guy is next to you and falls asleep? You’re now forced to refuse all requests to hydrate for fear you will have to climb mount fatso to get to the lav for some relief. Who among you can concentrate on email or your March Madness Picks when you’re thinking “I could be developing an embolism in my leg due to the lack of movement and fluids”. Now I ask you, is that any way to fly? No, of course it’s not and it’s time to take a stand! I say the airlines put a seat with two armrests right next to that thing that measures the size of your carry-on bag.
If Fatty Arbuckle can’t fit in the seat, he pays for two seats. Charge the guy a few extra bucks he might call Jenny Craig, and who knows maybe this becomes another way to deal with the obesity problem everyone claims we have here in America beyond another season of The Biggest Loser.
But this might make too much sense and will surely offend some, so I’m guessing this idea is destined to crash before takeoff.
I don’t want it to look like I’m picking on the TSA, but I can’t let these go without saying something….
Yesterday they missed a guy at JFK who had a stun gun in his bag (http://bit.ly/YdUSrI)
They eventually got him after his former girlfriend let the cops know he had stunned and then raped her repeatedly the night before. Bad guy caught but not without slipping through the TSA security checkpoint while trying to escape to London.
This while TSA Chief John Pistole was in Washington saying only an act of congress would prevent small knives from being allowed onboard (http://bit.ly/ZFuDaJ).
Ok, so a stun gun is not a small knife, but I’m not sure I’d be digging it on a position at this point if I’m Mr. Pistone.
In fact, this brings to mind the great scene towards the end of the original Rambo movie “First Blood”, when Colonel Trautman says to Rambo “IT’S OVER JOHNNY. IT’S OVER”.
If only it was!!
Ok CarryingOn fans if you’re still out there, I’d like to apologize for not being very active over the past few months. Chalk it off to a bunch of things we won’t go into here, but after observing the recent statements and actions of the TSA, even the Rip Van Winkle of bloggers would be stirred to life!!
It all started when I read that the sequestration forced budget cuts were going to cause chaos in air travel. It seems as if a 4% budget cut would result in everything from forced flight cancellations to reduce the workload on ATC staff, to dramatically longer security lines with a less secure environment to boot, and a quadrupling of the time it takes to clear customs at some of our bigger international gateways.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Chief John Pistole were the ringleaders of a clear effort that used hyperbole to create panic among the masses who use the air transportation system on a regular or irregular basis. They were quickly joined by a chorus of industry insiders and pundits who accepted their predicted outcomes without even the slightest pushback, and then decried the impact on the travel industry.
In fact, in the days after the sequestration started, Napolitano suggested that the lines had already begun to build (this despite the fact that not one screener has been let go, since the law requires that federal workers must be given 30 days notice before a furlough, but we digress from the chaos).
It’s all political theatre designed to scare us into thinking that what amounts to a rather insignificant budget cut, would mean the end of air travel as we know it.
We’ve written a few times about the TSA and like tracking them because of their entertainment factor (http://bit.ly/YxteVQ),
but for those of you who might not scrutinize them as closely as CarryingOn, here are a few of data points to consider:
• The TSA now employs 62,000 people, 47,000 of which are screeners, and has an annual budget of $8Billion.
• In 2007 some 680 million flyers were screened by what were then 44,000 screeners, but in 2011 only 640 million of us took to the skies, yet there were 47,000 screeners.
If you’re keeping score on that one, a 6.2% reduction in the number of people being screened seemed to require a 6.8% increase in the number of screeners. Now I don’t claim to be a TSA staffing specialist or to know all the complexities of what the TSA does, but I did do a two year stretch at LGA Airport a few years back, when the airline was still responsible for the screening checkpoint (we hired sub-contractors), and I seem to remember that if we had less people coming through the place, we needed less people to handle them. Who knows, maybe the shoes in the bin part causes you to need more people.
The TSA has also said that the only way to manage the required cuts is by reducing staff. Obviously that’s one way to do this, but surely not the only way. Maybe they can cut something else. Like what you ask? To answer that, it’s time for some more TSA fun facts, these provided by a joint report by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Committee on Oversight of Government Reform, which showed that among other things:
• The TSA has a warehouse in Dallas, Texas, where 5,700 pieces of unused security equipment sit in storage. The dormant equipment is worth $184 million.
• This equipment storage cost taxpayers another $23 million in depreciation, because nearly all of the 472 carry-on baggage screening machines in the warehouse have been sitting there unused for over nine months.
• The agency spends another $3.5 million every year just to lease and manage this warehouse.
In addition, under the recently renewed labor agreement, TSA employees will see their uniform allowances nearly double to $446 per year (by comparison, a combat Marine Lieutenant receives a one-time uniform allowance of $400). The cost of the increase in TSA uniform allowance is an estimated $9.63 million annually.
If we total this stuff up you could lop $220 million off the budget, which represents close to 3/4th of the required cuts, and not one TSA head was touched in the process! And I’m guessing they could find another $100 million to get to the required 4% reduction without too much difficulty.
But I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on the TSA because they are relaxing the restriction against carrying pocket knives, billiard cues, and a host of other items that make absolutely no sense being onboard.
So while it might take more time to get through security, once onboard at least I can go back to my favorite thing to do on a long transcon flight, whittling wood. I can see it now…..”Hey, look there’s Minnesota Fats in 32C . I’m going over and introduce myself and see if I can trade him my wood carving of Janet Napolitano’s head in return for some tips on how to play a better game of 9 Ball.”
An article in yesterday’s New York Post referenced a research report conducted by Airfare Watchdog.com. Now before I go further in describing the report’s findings, I feel it fair to add that Airfare Watchdog.com is not some government agency or non-profit that is tracking airfares for empirical reasons or to monitor injustice in the world of airline pricing. Rather, it is a cleverly named OTA. But hey, they have passengers and asked 1,000 of them some questions and then turned the answers into a research report that got noticed by CarryingOn and probably many others, so good for them.
Putting the source of the research aside for the moment, I thought it would be fun to conjure up what would happen if airlines actually starting selling this service. If as suggested in the survey, 1 in 6 travelers would be willing to pay more to exit the plane faster (10% said they would pay $10, 3% would pay $20, and another 3% an unspecified amount), the US Airlines would generate over $790Million annually in ancillary revenue. That’s a lot of dough and almost as much as the US Government will save under ObamaCare in one year (I’m sure some of you can sense the skepticism in that analogy, but I couldn’t help myself having just celebrated our country’s Independence Day).
But before the industry starts debating whether this new GOF Fare (Get Off First, because we do love our acronyms) can be sold in the GDS’s, let’s consider a few things. Having often wondered how I would fare in the fictitious Olympic event “Airport Steeplechase” as I dodged, weaved, and sprinted from Gate B27 to Gate E3 to make a connection, I asked myself if I would have paid an extra $10 bucks to get a head start. Given I’ve missed my fair share of connections, and been put through the “reaccomodation” process, a process by the way, that I liken to being paroled from prison, I would pay the $10.
Now before you say “no way I would pay”, reflect a bit on your worst missed connection and the likely reaccomodation process you encountered….
”Sir, you will have to wait your turn, all these other people in front of you also need our help”, which was followed by,
“Sir, we are working as fast as we can…you will simply have to wait your turn”, only eventually to hear an hour later,
“Sir, I’m sorry but the only thing we have for you is a connection tomorrow morning, and no, there are no hotel rooms available in the area”.
So you would probably pay the $10 too, but before our airline friends start salivating at the prospects of all that new revenue, they might want to consider the practical aspects as well. In previous posts we’ve talked about the boarding process and how complicated and unruly it has become, but in the case of getting on a plane at least you have referees (in the form of gate agents), a bigger playing field (the boarding area), and some easily identified rules (your boarding pass for one), that help control the process somewhat.
Now envision yourself onboard a packed 757 and having paid the $10 to get sprung from jail (aka the middle seat in Row 38) faster. Now think about an announcement that goes something like this, “ladies and gentleman, certain individuals onboard have paid for the privilege or exiting first, so I would like the rest of you to sit in your seats while they do that.” I envision everything from looks of confusion, to stares of hatred, followed by a host of people who didn’t listen, barely understand English, or choose to ignore the announcement, getting up and into their overhead retrieval routine, thus impeding your sprint to the exit. And what if you don’t end up getting off first after having paid for the privilege? Is your money refunded? Is there an arbitrator that rules on such things (“sir, you might not have been first per se, but you were in the first “wave” to exit, so technically we complied with the rules of carriage as outlined by IATA, ARC, the DOJ, EU, and Kevin Mitchell”). I can just see the mayhem in the aisles, the Tweets on Twitter, and the status changes on Facebook to something like “still in line”, or “just ripped off by the airlines”.
As a result, to save the airlines and everyone else a lot of trouble, CarryingOn is going to recommend a quick death to this idea, because if you really want to get out of a plane before everyone else you can do it today and it works just fine. After all, it’s not called First class for nothing.
Who’s in Charge Here?
I had the pleasure of speaking at two separate travel industry events a couple of weeks ago, the CWBTA January Chapter meeting, and the Wisconsin BTA’s annual Education Day (my thanks again to both organizations for extending an invitation). I did the same presentation at both, something I pulled together and titled, “Travel Management Out of the Box, How Technology Could Impact Your Travel Program.” The presentation covered a lot of ground but the main theme was that technology will continue to evolve and have a greater and greater influence over people’s behavior, eventually impacting the travel program (hence the catchy presentation title :-)).
In one section I started by posing what sounded like a rather odd question to the buyers in the audience when I asked, “how many people line up outside your office to get the next iteration of your company’s travel policy?”. Both audiences laughed which was expected, but I followed by asking a question designed to get them thinking when I said “but how many of those same people will line up outside a BestBuy or Apple store at midnight in the rain and cold, waiting to get the latest iPhone, Tablet, or Game Console?”. I went on to make the point that great technology can change people’s behavior whether it’s a device, app, or even a web property like Google or Amazon.
I also talked about the need for the managed travel program to address two masters; the traditional “boss” whether a VP of Procurement, CFO, of Travel Manager who has historically been responsible for watching over the company’s investment in T&E expenses, and the second, a new and potentially more influential master, the person who can spend up to 200 days a year on the road consuming that same travel program.
With that as the backdrop, I read with interest a couple of recent articles in The Beat, the first by Scott Gillespie where he talked about a potential Travel Policy crisis where Travelers reject corporate tools for consumer tools that are faster, easier and more respectful. Scott went so far as to question why a travel policy might be needed in the first place. The second piece was a follow-up to Scott’s piece by Alan Tyson the CEO of DataBasics, where Alan recognized Scott’s point, and sighted the 7 Deadly Sins of the traditional Travel Policy.
Obviously I think the guys are both on to something. And, I think my presentation hit more than one nerve of corporate managed travel that I think it’s time to address. Anyone listening? Better yet, anybody doing anything about it? Are your travelers starting to influence your travel program, and if so, how? Drop a line and let us know.
It’s the same way with two other things I love: travel and giving. Every time I board a plane I’m struck by how fortunate we are, we weary travellers, that we have the privilege to jet around the world and see new landscapes, meet different people, and peek (in some cases, leap) beyond our cultural comfort zones. Even just seeing the planet from 35,000 feet is a joy sometimes, a chance to get some perspective on the chaos below, or at the very least, an opportunity to see the sun shining above the rain clouds.
It doesn’t always feel like it, as we schlep through crowded security lines and wedge ourselves into middle seats, but we are lucky, lucky people.
Travel also gives us a unique opportunity to impact the places we are visiting for the better. This month I am running a Twitter campaign to highlight organizations that pair travel with charitable giving and volunteerism. Some will be easy and are relevant no matter where you’re travelling, or how. Some apply only to those of you who are trekking to more adventurous destinations, or specific spots. Some don’t even require you to actually travel. But all of them, I hope, will inspire you. Follow me at @BeckyontheRoad and #31TravelGiving.
Do you think I can find 31 of these opportunities? I’m sure I can – and if you know of one, send it my way to make it even easier. I’ll highlight in my Twitter campaign and in a couple of roundups posts I will offer here on Carrying On this month. Post comments here if you have ideas!
Happy travelling, you lucky wanderers! How sweet it is, indeed.