Saturday, July 12, 2008

This is (Sort of) about Logic & Perception.

Please forgive me my laziness today. Everything you're about to read is anecdotal...I'm too lazy to do any real research and provide you any links.

A few months ago, there was an expose' about airlines flying with less than full loads of fuel. The story was (supposedly) prompted by an uptick in pilots declaring fuel emergencies and requesting immediate landing slots. The tone of the story was that the airlines were putting you at risk to save money on fuel.

Last night, one of the networks, (I think ABC, but don't hold me to it), ran a story about how airlines are making all sorts of changes in an effort to maximize efficient fuel use. They were talking about how they're trying to stay on shore power as long as possible to reduce fuel wasted sitting at the gate. Airlines are talking about stripping off paint jobs and replacing them with a few decals...reducing weight by as much as 400 lbs. for some aircraft. A few weeks ago, we were all bitching about airlines starting to charge for luggage...but from their point of view, luggage is nothing but weight.

And most telling was the part of the story about fueling up. Once upon a time, an aircraft never left the ground without having its tanks topped off. But that's changed. If an aircraft is going on a short hop, why fill the tanks with unneeded extra weight? You'd be using fuel to transport...fuel. As you all know, I'm not much for math, but it doesn't take a genius to understand that if you're transporting X pounds of fuel and it takes Y pounds of fuel to make the trip from, say Denver to Chicago, if you lighten the fuel load, you'll actually burn less fuel making the same trip. Suddenly, the same story is about airlines trying desperately to economize...both to keep air travel affordable and to keep their companies in business.

Funny how a few months of rising fuel prices can change perceptions.


Jeri said...

Actually, I think (but am not positive) that aircraft have traditionally been fueled at the level to get them to their destination plus a safety margin, and not much more, for exactly that same reason. Aircraft maintenance crew chiefs carefully calculate the fuel necessary based on the expected weight of the aircraft, distance required to travel, and anticipated weather and altitude conditions.

Flying with excess fuel is actually a bit of a safety hazard at landing. I've even heard of aircraft dumping fuel before landing if they have significant excess.

So you are right in that the weight of fuel required to transport fuel is a factor... but I think that traditionally it's been a pretty close calculation in the industry. Maybe they're cutting it closer still?

The charging for luggage thing drives me nuts. Until they have in-cabin luggage capacity for everying to carry a bag on - it seems to me they can't charge for all checked bags. They'll have passenger rebellion, IMHO. I realize air travel is a commodity, but the service level has gotten so low that it's crossing the line to unacceptable - that's why Amtrak trains have doubled on the Cascades corridor in the last few years.

Nathan said...

I'm no expert, so I'm just going by what was on the report I saw.

You don't suppose it's possible they made a mistake, do you? :D

kimby said...

Nathan, I have sent a message out via the google UCF group....I am removing myself from Charlotte at this time...It is not fair of me to do something half-assed, and right now, all my time is kind of preoccupied.

I am not sure who was to follow me?

(but i sure hope that the next Writing Thang we do I can be a part of..boy that sentence was poorly written..maybe it IS a good thing i step away from commitments right now..LOL)

Random Michelle K said...

You realize, Kimby, this means you'll have to just entertain the rest of us.

That means surfing the Internet to find strange, funny, and wonderful things--we haven't already found. :)

MWT said...

UCF Google group?

Nathan said...


I wasn't too sure about that myself, but Kimby's really busy, so I'll cut her some slack.

Random Michelle K said...


if you're not in it, let Shawn know. He set it up, although he may have done it from the UCF addressbook I sent out.

MWT said...

Ah. You can feel free to include my email address in that - it's sitting right out on my blog, after all.

*wanders off in shawn's direction*

Nathan said...

Why don't I know anything about this?

Random Michelle K said...

Good question Nathan.

I guess Shawn forgot to send a "if you don't get this let me know" message.

John the Scientist said...

Don't feel bad, Nathan, I don't either.

To the point of the post, the airlines are violating a basic rule of pricing: bundle everything you can into the base price, and show line item pricing only when you have to, and have the customer pay for everything at the time of initial purchase. If an airline is charging on average $30 for a bag, would you have noticed if they had just tacked that on to the ticket price? But making it a separate line time, and then charging for it at the counter, after the customer has the psychological assumption that the purchase is already over, is baaaad business.

A few different things (or a combination thereof) might be happening:

The bean counters are in charge and forced the issue.

The folks in charge of marketing ticket prices are in control and did not want a hit on their ability to market by price. So they shifted the responsibility for raising prices to cover fuel to another division. This would be evidence that there is no one at the top over all the various silos who really knows what is going on.

Regulators or contractual agreements do not allow the airline to raise ticket prices as fast as fuel prices. This would be stupid, but entirely within the realm of possibility, especially if the government is involved.

The marketing department is completely inept and someone who did not pay attention in business school came up with the idea of hiding the fuel surcharge this way.