Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Freedom Of The Skies

In yesterday's WSJ, Philippe Reins shows that when it comes to air travel, good plans can bridge the partisan divide:

After logging nearly 150 flights on every major domestic airline, and racking up almost 100,000 miles over and between dozens of states, I have a few suggestions for Gerard Arpey, chief executive of American Airlines. Mr. Arpey introduced the latest fad of charging passengers $15 per checked bag, and recently said: "If we are going to have an airline business, our customers must ultimately compensate us for the cost of flying them around the country."

But why stop at checked bags, Mr. Arpey? Here are some more ways to make a few extra dollars:

- You could charge an extra $1.99 for the option of boarding the plane from the middle or back doors, rather than parading coach passengers through first class, only to be sneered at by people sipping Mimosas.

- When the plane is on the ground, the lights work, the brakes work, the TVs work – but not the air conditioning. The plane costs some $100 million and includes some of the most sophisticated technology known to man--surely the engineers at Boeing can devise a way to cool the plane at sea level. I'd shell out an extra $9.99 for that amenity alone.

- I'd happily throw in 99 cents for someone to explain to me what the refrain "1L 1R . . . 2L 2R" signals and why it has to be done via the PA.

Flight crew prepare for cross-check and all-call...

- Passengers don't want to hear how we're going to be delayed "a bit" because the starboard engine is a "little broken," or told at 8 a.m. Saturday that the "pilots haven't shown up yet" from wherever they were Friday night. Or how there are "Fifty ways to leave your lover, but only 10 to get off this aircraft." I'll cough up another $4.99 if we keep the cabin communications professional, concise and mundane.

- I like kids, I swear. But I'd pay almost anything not to sit in close proximity to one who is misbehaving. I will fork over 15 cents for every year of age over 10 for each passenger sitting directly next to me, in front of me, and behind me. So if I'm in a window seat, and the three passengers closest to me are each 50 years old for a combined 150 years, that's an extra $18. And I'd tack on another $5 to have my row and the rows in front and behind me completely child-free. That's another $23 right there.

- C'mon. My BlackBerry is not going to bring the plane down. I don't know of a single documented case of a consumer electronic device interfering with a plane's avionics. If they did, al Qaeda would just fly around with iPods. Since we don't fear an iBomber, why not just let me use my BlackBerry as much as I want, whenever I want. (I do anyway.) This one would be free, because it would be offset by negating the need for the flight attendant to expend energy cruising the aisle before takeoff searching for perps, like a prison guard working the tiers of Sing Sing.

This last complaint has long been a major point of contention with me. How is it possible that whether my iPod is on when we takeoff and land is a concern for the flight crew? I once raised the ire of one of Northwest's attendants when I dared to break out my iPod while the plane was boarding. "You can't use that now," she hissed, "If you want to listen to music, you can listen to the music we play for you." Yeah, can't get enough of that repetitive wuss jazz loop or Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the only musical selections that Northwest has offered in bidness class for the last five years.

My sharp-as-a-tack six-year old niece recently flew from Miami to Minneapolis. I asked her how the flight was and she said good, expect she couldn't figure out why she couldn't use their portable DVD player until about half an hour after takeoff. I half-heartedly tried to explain that it could possibly interfere with the navigation or communications systems on the aircraft, but judging by the incredulous look she gave me it was pretty clear that she wasn't buying it either.

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