Airline boondoggles result in more inefficiency

I don’t particularly enjoy flying. Years ago, it used to be something of a novelty when I started working for Farm Press and found myself posted to faraway and exotic places like Roanoke, Va, and Lexington, Ky.

I had been on airplanes only a few times before I started globetrotting for Farm Press. I flew to London my senior year in college for a two-week winter curriculum enhancement program/junket.

I flew several times to and from basic training (Greenville, S.C., to Fort Knox, Ky.), trips I’d just as soon forget, except for the return legs.

Lately, flying has lost its luster. Consider my latest venture into the wild blue yonder, a weekend getaway to Auburn, Ala., to watch my wife’s alma mater get embarrassed by the University of Kentucky. But the grandsons were there so it wasn’t all a bust.

The trip, however, was less than pleasant. The DFW-to-Birmingham leg wasn’t particularly bad, just a tight squeeze into those less than big enough seats. Coming back was a bit iffy for an hour or so.

We arrived at the airport well ahead of time, but on checking in (without checking bags and more on that later) found we did not have seats and would have to check with the gate attendant for seat assignments to Dallas.

The gate attendant was not in attendance when we arrived, so we had to amuse ourselves while she found her way to her post. She showed up about 45 minutes before the flight was scheduled to board and proceeded to inform the gathered travelers that the flight had been oversold and they would appreciate some volunteers to take a later flight for the tempting sum of a $150 voucher.

She needed 10 volunteers. That means they promised seats to 10 more people than they had room for, assuming, I suppose, that folks would be so impressed with Alabama that they would elect to stay a few more days or that a few would get lost on the way to the airport and have to book a later flight. Apparently, we all needed to get home and managed to find the airport.

No takers on that initial offer. They upped the ante to $200 — still no takers. $225? Nope. Pat and I never considered volunteering. She had to work the next day; I had a doctor’s appointment. But we understood that if volunteers did not step up, we’d be making other arrangements to get home. And did I mention that the next available flight, on which the airline would have been happy to book us, was not until late afternoon of the following day?

At $300 the gate attendant finally got enough takers to free up seats and we made it home. I can only assume that someone in the airline industry thinks it good business to book more flyers than they have seats for, but 10 over seems a bit extreme. They had to shell out $3,000 to convince 10 people to wait for a later flight. Unintended consequences of promising more than one can deliver: Eating $3,000 worth of vouchers.

And now that baggage thing. We checked no bags on either leg of the journey since to do so would have added $80 to the cost of the trip. So we, like most everyone else on the plane, lugged more bags than made reasonable sense through the airport, through security and through the narrow space between the seats to the back of the plane.

Unintended consequences: More carry-on baggage means more time to get everyone through security (likely more stress on the security personnel), longer to get everyone onto the plane, and longer to get everyone off. Delays are inevitable or more inevitable than usual.

Makes no sense to me. No wonder airlines are losing money and losing a lot of customer goodwill.

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