There is probably few people who haven’t seen the absurd video of the passenger being forcibly dragged off of a United Airlines flight. Obviously this was a grave public relations error by United Airlines, and I hope the man in the video gets a lot of money from them. In business, you put the customer first. Bumping passengers from the plane so that four employees could take the flight was, in a word, stupid. United could have:
- Not overbooked the flight.
- Offered more money for people to volunteer to wait for the next one. (Someone would have volunteered if enough money were offered.)
- In the worst case, rent a car and have your employees drive the four hours to Louisville for the flight the next day. As it was, they probably took longer to get there than they would have driving.
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The truth is, however, that scene could have been any of the major airlines. They all overbook, and they all force people to miss their flight if they cannot get volunteers. United was just the lucky ones who had the right combination of a clueless flight crew, a frustrated passenger, and an over-the-top group of security guards.
The real issue isn’t the airlines (or it isn’t just the airlines). The issue is that the airlines have an effective monopoly on air travel, or at least there is little enough competition that an airline can say, “Gee, I should charge $50 to check a bag,” and there aren’t isn’t enough choice for passengers to tell them where they can stick their baggage fees. This is one instance where government regulation is needed since there is not enough room for enough competitors to make free enterprise work. There are only so many spots at the airports, and the air traffic control systems can only handle so many planes, and it is so expensive to start an airline that few people can do so. This means there is not enough competition, so the airlines can basically abuse customers all they want, because “Where you gonna go?”
Here is where government should be stepping in to protect the consumers. You would think that the government would be making sure the paying customers, many of whom have very little choice but to fly occasionally, were protected from price gouging and abuse. They are falling down on their duty, and in many cases making things worse. Why are airlines able to charge big fees for bags, or food on the plane, or even the ability to have enough leg room to avoid dying of a blood clot? And why are they allowed to put so many seats on the planes and make it so uncomfortable? Why are airport food prices so high, and why are they able to charge so much for things like water when every passenger is forced to buy water and drinks since they cannot bring them through security? Given the monopoly airlines and vendors at the airports have, where is the government regulation protecting the citizens – the ones who elected them? Instead, governments are conspiring with the airlines and vendors to get more money from the passengers in the form of taxes and fees.
Think of what had happened to that man before the video you saw, as happens to everyone foolish enough to take a flight:
- He left home early, worried that he might hit traffic and be late to check in. If he was late, he would miss his flight and lose his money.
- Once he got to the parking lot, he needed to wind all around to get into the lot, then drag his bags to a shuttle. Hopefully the shuttle wasn’t full when it got to his stop. No one helped him drag his bags up the stairs onto the bus, and everyone was impatient with him.
- When he got to the terminal, he had to drag his bags down, walk who knows how far into the building, and then drag his bags all along the concourse to the line for his airline.
- He had to wait, perhaps a half hour, for a kiosk to open up. He then had to drag out his itinerary, figure out where the confirmation number was, pull out a credit card to verify his identity, and check himself in. If he forgot something of had to wait in line too long, he might miss his flight.
5. After checking in, he had to wait for the airline attendant to print his luggage tags and give them to him. He probably received no greeting. He had to worry that his bags weighed too much, or he’d pay a $100 fee, plus he had to pay $50 per bag regardless. When the airline rep was done, if he was lucky, she dropped the bags, face down so that things in the pouches got smashed, on a conveyor behind her. If not, he had to drag his bags to another line and wait for them to be inspected by TSA. He had to wonder as he left them if they would actually make it on the plane.
6. After checking in the bags, he had to find the security lines for his gate. He probably got no directions to the gate from the check-in counter and had to look all over his boarding pass to figure out which gate was his. If he messed up, he would miss his flight.
7. Once in the security lines, he probably had to wait 20 minutes to reach the first TSA agent, who probably gruffly asked for his ID and looked at him like he was a serial killer. He may have gotten a nice greeting (the first ones are usually the most professional), but he would be made to feel that if he was lucky and did everything right, he would be allowed to proceed. Otherwise, he would miss his flight.
8. After getting his ID checked, he would then wait in an even longer line, wondering if he was going to make it to the gate on time or miss his flight. Finally he would be told by an agent yelling to the crown that he needed to take off his shoes, belt, hats, coats, and empty his pockets entirely. He would then need to put his wallet, passport, and everything else of value into the x-ray machine , wondering if someone would steal it on the other side before he got a chance to get to it since his stuff might get through before he cleared the scanners. He probably hoped that he had not lost his ID in the rush and confusion.
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9. After waiting for the people in front of him, and having to walk where lots of people who didn’t think to wear socks had trod just before him, an agent would then motion for him to enter the scanner where he would be forced to assume the surrender position – hands up, palms out — while his naked body was revealed to a total stranger in the other room.
10. If anything was detected in his pockets, or if he was just lucky number 22, he would be made to go to a little cubicle, where he would be patted down all over his body, including his private parts. Through the whole, humiliating experience, he would be wondering if he would miss his flight.
11. After finally getting through security and struggling to get dressed again, he would need to stop by a shop to get some water since he couldn’t carry any through. Rather than paying the $1 or so as he would have seen outside of the airport, the price would be $4 per bottle. The government has done nothing to protect him from this price gouging. Instead, the city and state government have probably set the rents really high, basically making the vendor charge a huge price for water. He is captive in the airport, so he has no choice but to pay the price or go thirsty.
12. At the gate, he would be required to wait for the flight to board, probably not told that there was a delay until the time at which he was to board had long passed. If he were late, he’d miss the flight and lose his money. If the plane was late, too bad.
13. During boarding, he would need to wait while all of the more important people boarded the plane. He would finally have his section called, need to wait in a long line to get through the doors, then wait in an even longer line as people slowly pushed their way past the folks in 1st class who were getting their first drinks, and make his way slowly back into the cattle section as people fought to get their bags stowed. He probably didn’t have any room over his seat for his bag by the time he got there since someone sitting behind him took the space for one of her large bags.
14. Finally, after all of this, he made his way into his tiny seat with no leg room that was just big enough to wedge himself into.
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Then, he is told he would need to leave so that the airline could have some of their employees fly. Where is the government to:
- Make parking rates reasonable.
- Prevent baggage fees and other price-gouging fees.
- Provide a smooth, friendly, courteous screening process.
- Ensure prices for concessions are reasonable, given the monopoly they have created (or maybe require the airlines give you a $0.25 bottle of water after you’ve paid $400 for a flight).
- Prevent airlines from kicking you off of the plane after you have paid for your ticket and shown up on time.
Where government regulation is needed, they have failed miserably.
What do you think? Please leave a comment.
Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.