[No Excuse Zone] Proposed Criminal Charges for Airline Overbooking

As holiday travel reaches its peak today, millions will zip through the air from one place to another, enduring the tedious but necessary hassle of security screening and walking from one end of Terminal A to the opposite end of Terminal D in order to spend some time with those they love. Some nontrivial subset of these folks won’t make it on time, if at all, and not because of weather delays or true mechanical malfunctions of the aircraft. Instead, they will be “bumped” from flights that have been deliberately and knowingly oversold by most domestic air carriers.

Airline schedulers: How the world do you overbook an airplane? More importantly, how do you sleep with a clear conscience after doing so? Or are travelers merely numbers to be rearranged, instead of paying customers, real people with real lives, to be treated with utmost respect? Some airlines, such as JetBlue, don’t deliberately oversell; why should your (most probably) less successful and lower rated company?

Though not for an airline, I have worked in the mass transportation industry. At (Continental) Trailways, we transported hundreds of thousands of people and their luggage per year from one place to another across this great nation, and not once did we deliberately oversell a bus. Not a single time…nor was the idea even considered! Trailways may have deep-sixed themselves with mismanagement in other areas, but at least they didn’t go bankrupt because they failed to sell an excess seat or two while cramming the most people possible into the fewest possible runs from Jackson to Jacksonville (by way of Phoenix, natch).

Passengers, too, bear a personal responsibility to use the tickets they buy (or else don’t buy them in the first place!). However, since the money is already in the airline’s coffers, what does it matter to their bottom lines if a passenger fails to show? That’s how we treated unused bus tickets. It just meant more arm room for everyone else, and presumably a more satisfied ridership among those who did show.

As a former transportation worker and a current airline customer, I find overbooking to be deplorable, intolerable, inexcusable, needless, deceptive, manipulative and truly criminal in nature. It doesn’t matter how common or accepted it is, overbooking is wrong. This already (and unquestionably) unethical and conniving business practice should be illegal with penalties of jail time and a criminal record for those airline managers and executives who engage in it.

Extreme, say you? Well, if I were to write thousands of checks for money I didn’t have, the county DA would have the cops come out, wrap me up like a mummy in all manner of chains and cuffs and drag me straight to the nearest jailhouse for a long, long time, no matter my offers to compensate. And this would be the good and correct thing to do, in order to put a stop to such larcenous tomfoolery. The principle is the same for airlines selling seats they don’t really have.

Overbooking is a form of stealing: thoughtless and systematically condoned theft of the customer’s time and effort, as well as that of the poor gate agents and customer service reps who have to deal with the ramifications. Last I checked, theft was illegal in most of its manifestations, but alas, not this one. Prison is a fitting place for thieves. Let’s first make overbooking a crime, then put overbooking airline managers there.

For the record, this rant is not motivated in the least by a personal grudge. I never have been directly affected by the practice of overselling an airplane flight, so I harbor no first-hand embitterment over the matter. [I have, however, heard many ugly stories from friends, co-workers and relatives, making it seem lottery-fortunate that I haven’t experienced such mistreatment yet.]

Instead, this is based on something far more fundamental: the time honored, middle-American principles of common sense and treating customers right. Are those two ideals utterly lost on many airline managers? It seems so.

The aviation industry is the only one I can recall where it’s not only customary, but accepted by all involved, to sell something they know that they don’t even have. Further, and even more astoundingly, passengers seem to passively accept this, and at best, grumble and gripe a little if they are bumped from a flight as a result. Or at worst, take it out on the gate agents, who quite unjustly become the smiling targets of irate customers’ venom because of inane policies of some faceless, suit-wearing pinheads in a different department of the airline.

Yet of the folks I’ve known who have suffered the indignity of being “bumped,” only a tiny minority have done anything about it later through letters to the airlines, Better Business Bureaus, and state and national legislators. Clearly I don’t understand that. Why should anyone with half a spine be so accommodating and accepting toward such garbage, especially if they wouldn’t take it from other types of businesses? Is this a form of passive acceptance of abuse, as per the well documented syndrome of captor-captive sympathy, or instead, a form of mass submission to the seemingly hopeless, as with the Ugandans under Idi Amin or Afghans under the Taliban?

In a way, I’m looking forward to the first time an airline pulls this crap on me. Admittedly something of a combatant by nature, I have not, do not and will not stand for mistreatment by any business, of any size, for any reason (as a few here in Norman and other places have learned already). The customer comes first, period. I am the customer. As such I have uncompromising ideals of integrity. Treat me with respect and courtesy, sell me a good product at a fair price, and I will be loyal to the grave or to the business’ betrayal of me, whichever comes first. Treat me like trash that can be thrown away, and it will cost dearly in lost time spent dealing with my letters of complaint, lost man-hours issuing apologies and/or coupons, lost revenue from me and others not patronizing the business again, and loss of reputation as a result of my spreading the news far and wide by every medium possible (letters, word of mouth, websites, forums, filing court claims if possible, along with however else I’m legally motivated).

Until that happens, though, I simply must imagine what the experience must be like. Do so with me…

Imagine being a USC or UT fan (I can’t, but that’s a different story). You buy the ticket, reserve a hotel room, fly out there, take a cab or bus to the game, get in line. You’re told at the gate, “Whoops, we overbooked this Rose Bowl game. Somebody else has your seat. We’ll give you vouchers valid toward another Rose Bowl in the future.” Would this be acceptable?

If I write those rubber checks, the DA isn’t going let me off scot-free because I belatedly pass vouchers toward my future income to those I ripped off. Instead I would be spending a lot of time staring at the paint-peeling ceiling of 10X6 concrete box.

Imagine going to the restaurant to order your favorite meal. Instead of informing you before you buy that they’re sold out of everything in that big steak dinner, they take your money, set the last sizzling and juicy steak on a tray between you and the guy at the next table, tell you at that time that it was sold to two people, give it to him instead, and serve you no food. Then, while claiming with a straight face how much they value your business, the waiter offers you a couple of starlight mints and a coupon for tomorrow’s breakfast special of steamed grits with hash browns. Would this be acceptable?

Well, guess what that DA does if I give the businesses that received those bogus checks the lint from my pockets and a hastily scrawled coupon for some of the rusty tools in my shed? Sunshine, trees and clouds might become an ever more foreign concept as my worldview becomes some loud hallway as seen and heard through big fat metal bars.

Imagine booking your kids’ dream vacation at the only resort with a vacancy remaining in Orlando. You arrive to check in, several bags of luggage, a frazzled spouse and several fidgety and noisy kids all in tow. You had to prepay to even get a reservation (what a strange concept, eh?). The hotel clerk then informs you that you’re SOL, they’ve oversold the rooms, and you’ll have to take a voucher for the next room that isn’t already reserved and becomes available…who knows when. Would this be acceptable?

That rubber-check prosecutor certainly won’t show me any mercy if I offer to give those merchants good checks tomorrow, or whenever the next occasion arises I can come up with some. In fact, that plea might result in a longer incarceration!

The problem is selling something you don’t have. The ultimate solution is a prison cell. It’s that simple.

In the meantime, check out this handy guide to filing complaints from airsafe.com. The DOT Inspector General also has an online complaint form, but from their description, it has no teeth and little or no impact. Filling it out may be for cathartic purposes only. Local Better Business Bureaus also accept reports of unsavory business practices.

[No Excuse Zone] Moron on the Loose in Miami

I’ve been having a good time on this business trip to South Florida, and still am. So do not let this little rant deceive you into believing otherwise. It’s just a tiny pimple on the face of a fine, fun trip so far. Here goes…

Tonight (Nov. 30 in Eastern time) I noticed this classical specimen of thoughtlessness and arrogance.

Kendall Drive Klunker Parked Moronically

This was at the parking lot for the Barnes and Noble bookstore, Kendall Drive near the Florida Turnpike, Miami. Nobody can convince me that this driver was trying to do anything but take up two spaces, on purpose.

This lot was jam-packed, every space taken, and I had to wait around 10 minutes in a line just to get one. Yet the self-absorbed, haughty prince(ss) of pomposity driving this vehicle decided that it deserved two spaces as others waited for just one. This not only is arrogant, but constitutes theft — of other people’s time and space.

Exactly who appointed that person to the title of Most Important Driver in Kendall, or this silly little tin box as Most Important Car in South Florida? The gall!

I don’t endorse vandalism whatsoever, nor did I even think of committing any. Having had my car keyed before (for no reason at all) I abhor and detest such acts. Instead, and far more damaging in the long run, I took these pictures so the moronic behavior of its driver can live indefinitely online.

But face reality here, even if the driver obviously doesn’t. The world being as it is — especially in a big city — the hard, cold truth is that this kind of act is a sure ticket to having one’s car deliberately dented, keyed, tires deflated…or worse, by someone with far less patience and restraint than I. This is the East Coast, afterall, and given the mentality of many residents here, I can all but guarantee it will happen to this vehicle at some point if its driver continues to insist on behaving this way.

Instead of protecting their precious vehicle against damage, they’re inviting it. Such is life in a petty and vengeful society, and such reality sucks sometimes.

So here is the license plate number, as a service to the owner, in the event someone who knows him/her can enlighten them to their risky actions, and perhaps save them a good bit of ansgt in the future. Hey, I have to salvage some fleeting modicum of benevolence from this diatribe! 🙂

License Plate of Kendall Drive Klunker

I’ve seen this particularly annoying breed of dripping conceit before, almost everywhere I’ve lived and in many places I’ve traveled. It’s definitely not unique to Miami, where I used to live and still visit annually. In fact, it’s only by happenstance I haven’t noticed it around Norman since I started BLOGing. But I will. And you can bet the photos will also appear here. Arrogant bung-holes beware. I’m on the lookout and will expose it publicly if you present the opportunity through your self-centered thoughtlessness.

Somehow, as much as I’ve seen this occur, it never fails to bother me, when seemingly far greater troubles don’t. Maybe this is because it’s a sure symptom of perhaps the greatest trouble on this earth today: selfishness. [Under that umbrella fall all other vices. Think about it.] We all do selfish things, but some seem far more brazen about it than others, almost to the point that they want the world to see how ridiculous they are, as if it’s a badge of honor.

Front of Kendall Drive Klunker, Parked Wrong

This is an undeniable example of wanton arrogance, conveying a distasteful misproritization of self over others that — perhaps saddest of all — belies and besmirches that beautiful and holy cross in the window. Shame on him or her.

[No Excuse Zone] Another Gross Error in Science Media

Earlier this year, from a warm hotel room in snowy northern Indiana, I mildly ranted about some laughably stupid errors that appeared in the pages of Discover magazine — factual mistakes that either of my children could ascertain with ease, and which bring discredit to the periodical that allowed them. At least they didn’t reprint those blunders in a promotional pamphlet sent to millions, as has National Geographic this month with a clearly mistaken transposition that is no less ridiculous.

The National Geographic Encyclopedia of Space looks to be a spectacularly illustrated and richly informative book, based on the slick pamphlet I just received and the outstanding standards of illustrative quality for which its affiliated magazine is known. It probably will join my library in the next couple years, sometime after it begins to show up in my favorite used bookstore. The promotional brochure — actually a foldout poster, claims “EVERYTHING you wanted to know about space is right here in this fascinating, complete reference!”

Complete with factual errors, eh?

You and I know that Earth spins about its axis such that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, for an observer bound to the surface. To do this, it must rotate from west to east. Simple stuff. Most solar planets do this, but not Venus (which spins slowly the opposite way) or Uranus (tipped almost perfectly sideways as seen from the sun, slightly retrograde spin).

According to the new encyclopedia’s article on Venus, the first two pages of which are reproduced prominently in this pamphlet/poster:

    “With an orbit [of] 227 Earth days, its year is also similar to our planet’s, although its spin is retrograde, or west to east, unlike any other planet except Uranus.”

[Italics are added for emphasis, the word “of” inserted by me where it was missing in the text.]

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy! Factually wrong, too. Such is unbecoming of National Geographic…or is it?

It may seem a trivial error, but what does it say that such a goof should appear undetected in the book by writer and editor(s), then still undetected almost squarely in the middle of the sheet of glossy color paper promoting the book?

What other fundamental errors and examples of lazy usage fill the pages, yet undetected? Does National Geographic hire proofreaders from the pool of disgruntled bus mechanics at the local Greyhound garage? Or did they do something extraordinarily unrepresentative and happen to pick that single error to highlight in an advertisement sent to millions of people? Damn, I hope it was the latter.

Meanwhile, check out this interesting little discussion on Venus’ retrograde (east to west!) spin in PhysicsWeb and, if accessible, the Nature article to which it refers.

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