Today I had to leave for a one day business trip. When I explained this to Everett he gave me a hug and kiss, looked me right in the eyes and said “Ok Daddy. Have a good trip. And tell me all about it when you get back.” It was one of many moments I have had with him that will stay with me for a long time.

Note that the remainder of this blog might sound like it was written by a curmudgeon, and doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Everett, at least until the end.

The amount that we travel provides us plenty of experience with the idiosyncrasies of airlines. In a previous blog entry I discussed a branch of mathematics called Airline Math which is used to show, for example, how 10% of $1000 is $500. Another area where this industry has branched off from the mainstream is Airline English. For about the last 15 years Chris has consistently flown Southwest Airlines, first from Utah, then Cleveland and now MIlwaukee (Southwest came to Milwaukee the year after we did). There are two persistent curiosities about Southwest Airlines. First: all flights are “on time”, at least until they’re not, but even then they might be if you are using the airline definition, which can be translated as “not too terribly late in geological time”. Once it becomes clear that the flight is not on time by anyone’s definition they begin the process of proposing new times, starting with an opening bid, which is similar to an auction in that it will most certainly become a much larger number. Once when I arrived breathless at the gate in Salt Lake City for an “on time” flight I was told that my plane had not yet left its previous stop, and that we had a minimum three hour wait for it to arrive. They do get points for consistency: the same misinformation seems to be provided via their online flight status, the airport monitors and by employees. This suggests that they don’t actually know the location of a very expensive fleet of aircraft, which is possible but highly unlikely. More likely explanations range from disorganization to manipulation, but I don’t want to start any conspiracy theories. Another curiosity about Southwest: almost every flight starts with the announcement “This is a completely full flight”. This is another example where Airline English deviates from Normal English. When I hear a statement like “This flight is full” then I think it is mostly, if not completely full. By extension, I assume that “completely full” means every seat is taken, but I have almost never observed this to be true. On my recent “completely full” fight from Milwaukee to Kansas City there were several empty seats within a couple rows of me.

AirTran has decided that the best model for air travel is to charge fees at every possible moment. Granted they aren’t the only airline moving toward this model but they do seem to be the most extreme. On a recent AirTrain flight the online checkin system informed Chris that he owed an extra $7 and he couldn’t checkin without paying it. No explanation was given, and no one at the airport could explain it, so he had to pay it and get on with life. On our family trip to Seattle we all had to pay fees for luggage (getting to be more the norm) and for our seats (what?!?). During the in-flight service all types of soda (called “pop” in the midwest) were free while milk for Everett cost $2 (obesity epidemic anyone?). What they don’t seem to realize is that for a long time we will associate their airline with significant and gratuitous fees (for our Seattle trip these totaled over $200), most of which are ridiculous and some of which they can’t even explain.

To address this I propose the following, which I am willing to repeat as needed until the situation improves: I will call a meeting of airline executives. The meeting will be scheduled for 3pm, and we will send repeated reminders via phone, text, e-mail and a website with real-time updates. As people enter the meeting room they will be asked if they would like a seat (extra charge), if they would like a seat with extra legroom (another charge), and if they would like to be first in line to enter (another charge). At the start of the meeting the only person in attendance will be my 3 year old son who skipped his nap and is exhausted, sick and screaming. It will be up to them to entertain him until I saunter in two hours later with no explanation but rather an acknowledgement that we are starting “on-time”.

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