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15 March 2006
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Infrequent Flier

I like California.  Even though I live on the East Coast, I used to go to California fairly often - once and sometimes twice a year.  Business, usually, with a few extra days of vacation at the beginning or end of the trip.  As airline fares decreased, my trips to CA decreased proportionally.

No, that didn't make sense, but it's true.  I, for whatever squishy human reason, don't like to be "cheated."  Is a trip to California worth $500?  Is it worth $400?  Sure.  Unless, that is, somebody else is paying $490 or $322.  When I know the fare is what it is, I really don't mind paying it if it seems more or less reasonable.  When I know I'm being charged more because of arbitrary reasons, restrictions, or "yield-management" programs, the East Coast starts looking more attractive to me.  Does it cost the airline more to carry a passenger if he's not staying over Saturday night?  Of course not.  Misplaced sense of fairness or not, I won't pay it.  And I won't go to bizarre lengths to meet their restrictions.  I just think to myself "evil airline scum" and make alternative plans.

Which is not to say that I never fly or that I never go anywhere.  Sometimes I do manage to get what seems to be the cheapest fare.  (Mysteriously, I have no moral qualms about other people paying more than I do.)  I just travel less frequently because I won't pay more, and won't invest the effort to pay less.

But I think I may have just been grounded...

One airline has mooted the notion of charging extra for "preferred" seats in the coach section.  (Me pay to fly first class?  Are you out of your mind?)  'Til now, when I walked up to the ticketing counter, all 6'4" (193cm) of me, the agent, not necessarily part of the "evil airline scum" axis, often spontaneously offered to seat me in an emergency exit row or other "preferred" seat.  With surgery as the alternative, the answer was "Sure, thanks."  Do I really and truly need the extra legroom?  Maybe not.  But it does help, and assures that I won't get stuck in the airplane after landing, discommoding the passengers next to me or perhaps providing entertainment for the cleaning crew.  Is being tall a "handicap?"  With regard to airline seating it could be considered one.  One could argue that the ticketing agent is simply using common sense in offering these seats to unusually tall people.  Certainly if one has a recognized handicap, the airlines are required by law to "accommodate" it to the extent necessary and possible.  I'm sorry sir, the wheelchair row will cost an extra $50 just doesn't fly.  (Yes, I did just write that.) 

So what, then, of my idiosyncrasy of being unwilling to pay if others don't?  Will I pay $15 to sit in an exit row, a boon that costs the airlines nothing and makes me willy-nilly a part of the emergency evacuation crew?  Have I not regaled you with tales of the scenic wonders of the East Coast?

I truly don't know if I'm part of the problem that the airlines are having.  Perhaps I have but one counterpart in California who won't travel east for the same eccentric reason.  If so the country remains balanced and the airlines (evil scum that they are) laugh at us.  But are there millions of us?  Certainly everyone hates the airlines!  Are they losing a serious percentage of discretionary flyers, potentially almost pure profit, because the airlines make travel so irritating and unattractive?  Are they smart enough to have done surveys of non-flyers to find the answer?  I'd like to think so, but "smart" and "airlines" don't seem to go together.

2006
Richard Factor