Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fun with À la carte Marketing

In the beginning there was Aunt Martha, who traveled from Buffalo each summer to visit, and who managed to bring most of her household thanks to her indestructible set of Samsonite. You met her at the gate back when you could do that, and accompanied her down to the baggage claim belt -- sometimes with other recruited family members or friends to whom you would soon owe favors.

The wait at the baggage carousel could be long. Lots of bags to unload, people crowding the belt looking for their own discrete tag or tape marking on otherwise identical-looking beige hard-side luggage, and periodically some duct-taped trash bag full of clothes whose cleverness some college student bragged about before going to the airport, and whose self-destruction on the conveyor belt that same college student would laugh about back at the frat house.

You brought the station wagon, and hauled all of auntie's junk out to the short-term parking lot. You knew you were going to spend a frenzied hour trying to help her find everything she brought before taking her back to the airport for her trip home.

Then airlines began charging fees for checked luggage.

Hallelujah.

Lots of the junk haulers got lost. Some just quit flying and can now be seen wallowing down the turnpikes in sagging minivans. Aunt Martha learned to leave her Hummel collection behind.

Other airline travel givens have disappeared on most domestic flights over the years.

Meal service ... gone.

(Not many flights over four hours, so big deal. Buy some Pepperoni Pizza Combos at the airport snack shop if you can't rock 1,200 calories at Burger King before boarding).

Alcohol ... gone.

(We have enough to worry about with sober unruly passengers).

But now, some airlines are planning to charge for carry-on bags.

Next thing you know, they'll be charging for you to get on.

Oh, wait.

They already do charge for you to get on.

Presumably airlines long ago figured-in the cost of your carry-on luggage, as evidenced by the built-in overhead bins on most airliners. Not much airline labor involved in stuffing them either, except for the two- or three- interventions-per-departure where a flight attendant figures out a polite way of saying, "That ain't gonna fit no matter how much you push. I'll take it up to the First Class closet since you managed to get past the boarding gate with this monstrosity."

Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza, who is the first to sing the praises of this wonderful new travel fee choice, says his airline is charging for carry-ons in-part to streamline the boarding process.

But airlines can already control pre-departure luggage bin mayhem by simply snagging bags that don't meet size restrictions at the gate and playing tough with the lap baby mother who thinks she's getting on with a stroller and diaper bag in addition to her baby and two overstuffed carry-ons. (Don't whine about the cruelty. Let's face it: the kid's going to scream all flight-long, and the mother's going to inadvertently leave him or her on the plane in her preoccupation with collecting all of her stuff later).

Baldanza further argues that Spirit has already lowered fares by the amount that will be charged for carry-on articles ... which is the very same logic used by restaurants that advertise free dinners for those who don't want to eat.

Generally when people take a trip that requires airline travel they'd like to take a change of underwear. Maybe even a T-shirt to rotate.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), observes that "We are going from the sublime to the ridiculous with airlines."

He's right, of course, but maybe we're all getting duped.

Say ... just how often was Spirit Airlines front page news before this proposition?

And their prices are the same or lower than other carrier fares even with the bag-check fees?

How many senators were holding press conferences about Spirit Airlines before this?

How many bloggers were ...

Dang.

Clever work, Mr. Baldanza.

M.O.

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