How To Fix Flying

Popular Mechanics has an interesting series of article on flying.

The fact is that the ATC should be privatized.  The FAA’s system is archaic and the technology has been behind the curve for as long as I can remember. It looks like many other countries and regions have privatized ATC and  are the better for it because a private company can: A. Make fast decisions and B. negotiate to get all the players on the same page with everybody having a stake.  Government doesn’t work that way. Government does not do operations well and the ATC is a critical operation.

The rest of the articles are the usual  stuff on how to plan your flights ahead of time and make your travel better. Here’s some videos about the economics and processes in the airline industry.

The 80/20 rule applies to airlines as well as to just about everything else. 20% of the people provide a big chunk of the revenue.

 few years ago, you said that 87% of your customers at American Airlines fly less than once a year and represented about half of your revenue, do those statistics look materially different at United?” Pfennigwerth asked.

Kirby, who served as president of American Airlines before joining United in August, replied that the stats are similar at his new company.

At United, 85% of customers fly less than once a year and, like American, also account for close to 50% of revenue, he said.

This means that just 15% of United’s customers account for half of its income. And a large chunk of that revenue comes from a small, but highly important group of frequent business flyers who pay full price premium or economy cabin fares.

As a result, it is imperative that airlines keep those who spend the most money with them the happiest while maintaining a positive relationship with the rest of its clientele.

Delta Air Lines Delta Air Lines check-in counter. REUTERS/Ginnette Riquelme

To do so, airlines have resorted to two strategies in recent years. First, American, Delta, and United have all converted their frequent flyer programs from a mileage-based award system to a revenue-based system.

Delta and United both made the switch in early 2015 with American following suit earlier this year after the completion of its merger with US Airways.

Here’s how a revenue-based system works. Instead of earning frequent flyer miles based on the distance of the flight, mileage is accrued based on the price of the ticket.

For instance, American’s new system awards basic members of its AAdvantage program with five miles per dollar spent. However, high ranking Executive Platinum members — usually frequent business travelers who book full-price premium cabin seats — receive 11 miles per dollar spent.

As a result, perks such as reward flights and free upgrades accrue exponentially quicker for those who spend more money. In addition, a revenue based system has all but wiped out the “mileage run” — a hack used by flyers who buy cheap tickets with itineraries designed to maximize the accrual of miles.

A second strategy airlines have undertaken is the increased segmentation of their product offerings. So instead of offering economy, business, and first class, airlines have crafted products specifically targeted to the needs of specific passengers.

For example, Delta now offers bargain hunters a low-cost offering called Basic Economy which does not allow customers to pre-select seats and make changes to their itinerary. At the same time, Delta also offers a Comfort Plus product which — for a fee — gives economy passengers a taste of the business class experience at the a much lower price point.

American Airlines E175 main cabin American Airlines Embraer E175 main cabin. American Airlines

Conversely, Airlines have redoubled their efforts to woo lucrative premium cabin customers with new accommodations as luxurious as there has ever been on an airliner. In August, Delta announced the introduction of a new Delta One premium cabin made up of all luxury suites. A couple of months earlier, United announced plans to revamp its premium cabin with a new Polaris Business Class suite.

These days, flying is a significantly safer and more affordable experience than the halcyon days of the Golden Age of aviation in the 1960s. Still, America’s airlines remain a convenient target for complaints.

And that’s for good reason. Even as American, Delta, and United begin to reintroduce amenities cut during the financial crisis, air travel in America, these days, is hardly glamorous. This is especially the case in the close confines of economy class.

United Airlines Polaris Business Service Cart United Polaris Business Class. United Airlines

Right or wrong, the statistics offered up by United gives us a glimpse at why airlines in America behave the way they do. While flying in coach should not brutalize flyers (something airlines need to work on), it is also clear why the folks at the front of the plane or with frequent flyer status are treated in a different manner by airlines.

Of course in these days of commoditized travel it’s good to remember more elegant days.




  1. penneyvanderbilt · November 17, 2016

    Reblogged this on KCJones.


  2. lester · November 17, 2016

    Get the dam dogs out of airplanes. They are becoming kennels.


    • jccarlton · November 17, 2016

      It’s not the dogs that are the problem, it’s their owners who can’t leave them behind. I can understand a seeing eye dog for a blind person, maybe, though it wouldn’t too hard to make arrangements to have the dog fly in cargo and the crew get the passenger to their seat. But lapdogs? I suppose it’s because the owners pay for an extra seat. At least I hope that they are paying for an extra seat.


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