A few years ago I started flying last minute.
I figured for all the anxiety that ticketing changes brought me, the extra 10-20 percent a year in travel costs was a good trade.
I have been lucky the last 30 years to have mostly flown Southwest and JetBlue.
This recent United shitshow is a new level of bad behavior, but it was inevitable and will hopefully inspire some change.
Matt Levine has the definitive piece on these bad actors entitled ‘overbooking and cross-selling‘. You have to read the whole piece and all the links to understand how diseased this industry is and how it’s tied to our markets, but here is a good excerpt:
United then went on to demonstrate that if you are a major airline in 2017, you don’t have to be very good at public relations, putting out a series of blasé statements whose main message was “whatever, we are an airline, you will come crawling back.” It was interesting to see people on Twitter talk about boycotting United over this incident, as though that was a possible course of action. Consider the revealed preferences: The man at the center of the incident, who was violently attacked for sitting in the seat that he had paid for, tried to run back onto the plane. He’s not boycotting United! He just wanted to get home.
We talk a lot around here about the theory that increasingly concentrated cross-ownership of the airline industry by institutional investors has reduced competition among airlines, and I suppose you could read this incident as proof that United is so insulated from competitive pressures that it can afford to beat up its customers without losing any market share. But really this story seems more like the result of competition — but competition solely on price, not on service. If airlines compete solely on price, some passengers will get beaten up. “Investors seem impressed by the sadistic commitment to cost control,” comments Matt Klein. “By auctioning off overbooked seats, economist James Heins estimates that $100 billion has been saved by the airline industry and its customers in the 30-plus years since the practice was introduced.” Ryanair would introduce Beating Class if it could save money.
If this does not depress you enough, I loved this Wired piece today about the airlines and United specifically.
The airlines, much like the railroads and the banks have become enterprises focused on ‘calculated misery’. They profit from people’s fear of suffering. Mr. nice guy Warren Buffett is the king of calculated misery (Wells Fargo, most railroads and now United).
We are in the worse phase of this airline debacle. Everyone thinks it is their right to fly and the airlines are run by the banks and institutions who believe it is their right to ‘milk’ you.
Luckily, this consumer era is led by Amazon who will jigger the cloud and Wall Street to get into the airline business.
For Amazon and Prime, travel is the ultimate bundle.
Also published on Medium.