Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Celebrating Leave the Co-pilot at Home Day

I have friends and loved ones whom I otherwise respect who pay an annual fee for the privilege of buying groceries, jewelry, tires, and batteries all under one roof.

They walk into their warehouse store and show their membership cards, then roam the aisles with one or more out-sized shopping carts, piling in cubic feet of Captain Crunch and enough frozen California Mix to stock the lunch bar at the local MCL.

The entrance fee and paper towels stacked 20-feet high all shout, "Hey!  Look!  These have got to be lowest prices in town.  Otherwise we wouldn't make this such a hassle."

The armed guard stationed vaguely between the jewelry case and the checkout registers suggests both "Hey!  You're practically getting away with robbery at this joint!" and, "Hey!  The jewelery in the case isn't so chintzy that you shouldn't buy that 40th Anniversary necklace for your wife here.  And there's still room for it in your cart on top of that 5-gallon barrel of barbecue sauce."

Still others shop at the cash-only place that charges for bags and rents you your shopping cart for a quarter.  There you can load up on ValueBest peanut butter and GoodHarvest powdered drink mix and maybe chip in an extra nickel to get a "Thank You" from the cashier when you leave.

The fact that neither of the above blow-out pricing establishments is appreciably cheaper than just shopping with discretion at the average large grocery chain is no deterrent to these customers, whose loyalty only grows stronger with each new in-store degradation.

So it is from time to time with air travel, where the cut-rate sacrifice-as-savings stunts never cease.

Cattle Call seating.

Carry-on Fees.

Pay-Snacks.

Pay-Toilets.

Leave the Co-pilot at Home Day.

Leave the Co-pilot at home?

Sure.  Modern planes fly themselves.  We actually make some of these people pay for the honor of pretending to fly our equipment, but sometimes they get groggy from working at the Piggly Wiggly to support themselves and go up and move the stick the wrong way in an ice storm.

We can train a flight attendant to land the plane in case the captain had the fish.  Or was it the chicken?

(Silly us. The pretzels or the peanuts).

But wait a minute.  We're going to ditch the co-pilot but still pay a flight attendant to demonstrate the little rubber hose thingy and sell us a half-can of BubbleKing Kola for five bucks?

The FA doesn't even pay us to work for us ...

As the forum's finest have already pointed out, some small-capacity airline flights already employ first officers in the role of flight attendants, so the foundation for the  bait-and-switch of perception is already in place:

Let's just call the first officer a flight attendant now.  And come to think of it, we need a new flight attendant anyway.  The last one we had left in a huff.

Remember: everybody complained when we got rid of the flight engineer, too.  The last FE anybody needed hung out in the engine room of the Starship Enterprise.

Will the future of airline travel be no co-pilot?  And no pilot?

The day of the co-pilotless and even onboard pilotless flight may yet come to pass.  But until then, take heart in the knowledge that attention-grabbing thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another cheapskate airlines usually don't hold consumer fancy past their first flaming swamp ditchings.

In the time between consumer cost/safety value paradigm shifts there remains the opportunity to book early and cheaply on a carrier that's a little more concerned about its long-term business model.

And if we do see the day of remotely-flown airliners, remember that business travel is rarely required nowadays, and even vacation travel is overrated.

Web-cammed computers are cheap.  Why just last week while meeting with the AVSIG suits via GoogleMeeting this humble blogger learned that AVSIG revenues are up for the quarter ... or maybe it was costs that were up.  We buffered and froze, but somebody was going to send a follow-up e-mail.

HD televisions are cheap.  I got a stunning one-hour tour of Glacier National Park the other evening while dining on a Little Ceaser's cheese pizza and BubbleKing Kola, and without so much as a bear attack.  There was the atmosphere-killer of the adult diaper commercial dropped between the majestic mountain flyover and tranquil glacial pools, but no deal killer compared to a missed connection in Chicago.

M.O.

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