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Archive for April, 2017

Skyhigh Airlines

Do you remember this gem of a commercial from the 1980s?

It was one of an entertaining series produced by Alaska Airlines, parodying the gap between promises of  superior customer service and actual delivery.

Good news for United – they will not have to pay a dime for advertising for a while. There’s plenty of free video available and, unlike the poor chap in the Alaska commercial who at least had a seat, passenger David Dao couldn’t keep his.

But he did receive priority deboarding.

As a frequent flyer, I have endured my share of shoddy service but, quite often, it has been more than balanced with exemplary acts of kindness by airline personnel, both on and off the plane, from the cockpit to the reservation agents and the skycaps.

I am sure the vast majority of United’s rank and file personnel were appalled by this incident, but they have to zip it up lest they face the wrath of CEO Oscar Muñoz and get dragged down the proverbial aisle of retribution.

The airline industry is as complex as it gets, but that fact is often used as tool to bamboozle the public and obfuscate poor management practices.  United and other airlines have been flying for more than half a century and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge about scheduling, matching passenger loads with routes and assigning crews to flights.

When customer service goes awry, airlines’ management just shrug it off as de rigueur of the environment.

If industry CEOs learned from experience and applied fixes, the process of bumping would not be as widespread as it is today.

Airlines bumped 40,000 passengers, not including 434,000 who voluntarily relinquished their seats. Statistics for 2015 show about 895 million passengers were carried on domestic routes. So the number of inconvenienced passengers is a mere fraction of the total.

That’s good, but it is a lottery you do not want to win, especially if you are on a tight schedule.  What’s more, bumping creates delays for all passengers and causes some to miss connections.

The root cause, overbooking, is necessary because of passenger cancellations, according to the industry. Airlines risk losing revenue if they cannot fill seats left vacant by no-shows. But what they fail to admit is the windfall they make off of baggage fees, amounting to $3.8 billion for domestic carriers in 2015.  One study cited by Fortune Magazine estimated close to $11 billion for a la carte fees overall.

The disparity between the two seems inexplicable, but it is a staggering amount no matter what.

Do you think some of this money could be used to offset lost revenue from late cancellations, thereby reducing the need for overbooking? How about some for better comfort?

The public might be more forgiving of mismanagement if they had something in return thrown their way,,,and not just a bag of peanuts.

We are likely to face pay lavatories and other abuse , as depicted in other vintage Alaska commercials, before the airlines show some respect to the people who allow them to exist – the passengers.

 

 

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The first thought that popped into my mind when Governor Brown proposed his gas tax hike was former mayor Villaraigosa’s infamous trash collection fee increase.

You may recall, the fee was hyped as a means to hire 1,000 new LAPD officers.

Less than half that number were hired; the rest of the funds went to overhead,

As I told NPR’s Patt Morrison and the LA Weekly in interviews back in 2008, controls and reporting are insufficient  to assure the proper allocation of taxes and fees.

This is especially true with state tax revenues, which are allocated to various funds, including those at the local level.  At every layer, allocations are made for multiple purposes. Such is the case with gasoline taxes. They are also used to fund mass transit and other transportation projects unrelated to automobiles. Gasoline excise tax revenue is also used to pay the debt service on highway bonds (Brown’s proposal is an excise tax), effectively relieving the general fund of the obligation.

This all makes for quite a trail to follow. Few individuals have the time or wherewithal to do so.

Determining how much of gas taxes actually improve roads is almost a fool’s errand. Politicians know this and use it to their advantage.  Lack of accountability gives them all the cover they need to divert funds.

This much is known: Brown’s plan would increase taxes by $52 billion; $7.5 billion would go to public transportation and another $1 billion for bike lanes and walkways, not exactly what you would call road and bridge improvements.

It also includes a constitutional amendment requiring spending to be limited to transportation projects.  And Villaraigosa’s trash fee was supposed to cover hiring officers.

You can be assured that new definitions of transportation will abound if the proposal is passed. If it fails – and it could – don’t be surprised if it is resurrected.

Here’s an idea: instead of the tax increase, let’s just pass a constitutional amendment requiring all existing gas tax revenue be spent on roads and bridges.  We might then see a major decrease in the maintenance backlog.

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