Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

American Airlines: We Know How To Make Money!


I've already asserted ad infinitum that American Airline's Eagle operation is abominable. They publish a schedule, but many days it's just a fantasy. They proved it again this week on their 3 daily flights between O'Hare and Marquette.

In addition to endless creeping delays and outright cancellations, these three flights very often tend to be weight-restricted, which requires bumping full fare Y folks--the ones whose tickets cost a fortune--off the flights against their wills. And that's what I want to talk about.

"Weight restricted" means the plane is not considered safe to fly over a certain weight, and that weight is below the normal design weight of the plane fully loaded with all seats filled and all luggage in the cargo hold and gas tanks full. Usually a plane is weight restricted because of weather uncertainty (in case it has to divert to an alternate field, which would require extra fuel), but sometimes it's because the airline just doesn't want to pay for enough fuel to move a fully loaded plane to its destination with sufficient margin for safety.

In either case, they calculate the revised lower-than-normal aircraft weight and then figure the total number of passengers they can board up to that revised lower weight. The rest are bumped off the flight.

Many of my 17 colleagues have been using AA for their travels to and from Marquette (MQT) since September. This past Monday night one of our guys was successively bumped off two flights to MQT because of weight restrictions even with a full fare ticket. He was forced to get a refund and drive a rental car from Chicago to Marquette, a grueling all-night, 311 mile journey of just under six hours.

Why would American Airlines give up $1,000 in revenue (round trip) by bumping off the highest revenue passenger on the flight?

Ironically, it's because when a plane is weight-restricted, the last person to book an AA flight is not given an actual seat assignment until they arrive at the gate, no matter how much they paid. That way the gate agent knows who to bump if the flight is weight restricted: last to book, first to bump.

And of course a person who books at the very last minute (and therefore does not get a seat assignment) is certain to pay the very highest fare in the market.

It's pretty dumb to deny a seat to the highest yield customers while allowing the lowest yield flyers on board, yet the geniuses at AA and AE do it every day. In fact it's standard operating procedure.

Proving once again that AA has no earthly idea how to make money.


Blogger Phil at the Beach said...

As a recently retired airline pilot, I heartily agree with you assessment of how passengers are treated at American Airlines, and especially American Eagle. While I do doubt that your comment that, "sometimes it's because the airline just doesn't want to pay for enough fuel to move a fully loaded plane to its destination with sufficient margin for safety", is a likely reason, the rest of your comments are completely accurate.

Some background info, that you may already know: The weight of the passengers on the aircraft is derived by using an allowance that was revised upward by the FAA in August of 2005.....Standard Average Passenger Weights
Summer New, in lb.* Previous,in lb.
Average adult passenger weight 190 160
Adult male 200 175
Adult female 179 135
Child 2-13 82 80
Average adult passenger weight 195 165
Adult male 205 180
Adult female 184 140
Child 2-13 87 80

*Includes 16 lb. for personal items and carry-on bags

New averages for passengers are based on actual weighing of 9,000 individuals under a National Centers for Disease Control program. A 5-lb. spread between summer and winter weights reflects heavier winter clothing. Given the magnitude of change, the FAA plans to routinely update figures. The latest advisory circular assumes a 50-50 split between male and female passengers. The previous circular assumed a 60-40 ratio.

The point of all of this is that aircraft like the American Eagle regional jets, that began their life with little extra margin for carrying extra weight, were immediately having to leave passengers behind regularly because of the higher passenger weights.

So there are the mechanics of the issue. That still does not answer why American Eagle cannot seem to treat their customers as if they actually value their business.

11/17/2006 10:02 AM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

Phil at the beach: Wow! That's a great explanation, and it is much appreciated. Fully detailed facts. Thank you very much.

I gripe all the time about AE, but I don't blame the poor folks at the gates and on board in the cockpit and in the cabin who have to execute the schedules developed by planners. Most of the time they are trying hard.

I know every reader of this column will appreciate the facts you provided. Thank you again very much, and happy Thanksgiving from Raleigh, North Carolina!

11/17/2006 10:08 PM  

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