I’m on Spring Break now but am spending time working on online videos. It’s been a while since I posted about anything — I’m trying to stay away from politics more to lower my blood pressure — but I saw this and had to comment on it. I don’t have time for as thorough a discussion as I normally like to have, but better to get something short up than nothing at all.
Nobody likes when your flight is late or you’re sitting on the tarmac for hours. I once spent 4 hours on the tarmac at DFW because of weather. Luckily, I pack a huge gallon-size Ziploc bag full of goodies — if you fly with me, you’re never hungry — so I had Red Vines, nuts, granola bars and beef jerky.
As a result of an increased number of stories like this, especially when toilets are out of order, there was a move in Congress to pass a Airline Traveler’s Bill of Rights. It never happened, but the U.S. Department of Transportation passed their own rules and next month will be charging fines on the order of $27,500 per passenger if a flight is stuck on the tarmac for over 3 hours. $27,500! That’s about 100 times the average ticket price. So if an airline has one bad flight, they have to make it up on the next 100 flights.
Only the government would expect that they can pass a ginormous fine like this on things that are sometimes beyond an airline’s control and they’ll get what they want. What would an economist expect to result? Higher prices for flights — passing the risk of a bad flight onto consumers — and fewer flights. To the extent that some of these delays are the cause of airlines scheduling too many flights at the same times, so there is little room for error if something goes wrong, they will simply have to cut back on prime rush hour flights to avoid these possibilities. If a possible delay is in order because of impending weather, as it was in my case, they will simply cancel the flight rather than risk it. That’s what the CEO of Continental told investors recently (story linked here).
The only thing worse than a late flight is no flight at all. And with airlines running fewer flights in recent years, starting with the increase in gas prices two summers ago, it’s become harder to find a standby seat. My girlfriend and I missed our flight to Los Angeles last Thursday. She was able to get on the next flight 2 hours later but I had to wait another 2 hours after that to get a standby seat. I consider us lucky — there was a chance we would have had to wait almost 10 hours for another flight because airlines are operating at close to full capacity these days in an effort to cut costs.
So ask yourself: is it better to get to your destination a few hours late or not at all?
Never understimate the power of the federal government to make you worse off by “solving” your problems with strict guidelines.