Monday, March 01, 2010

Guacamole and overhead bins 

This story is hilarious, and it reminds me of something I saw on the airplane last week. After years of faithfulness to Northwest (often undeserved except that they flew to St. Cloud airport and thus I had free airport parking and short drive times), I was willing to be moved by price on the trip to Vegas last week, even if I'm not paying the full price of the ticket myself. Orbitz kicked up a low combination air-plus-hotel package at the conference hotel which used Frontier Airlines. I had never flown them before, with their reputation of being cheap and being, well, cheap. But since Delta had badly underperformed for me recently I thought at least I could save some money while being treated like merde. So I booked the ticket.

I can say it was an OK experience. Particularly given my recent trips with Delta, the seats were the same, the delays not too out of line (someone apparently "soiled" a carpet in the aisle, so they needed an extra 45 minutes to clean it) and the service passable. I would fly them again.

But there was one interesting part of the gateside experience. You are quite hassled about bringing bags on the plane, but we know that there's a tragedy of the commons problem there too (like Donald Marron's story linked above with guacamole) so you are limited in how much to take. But Frontier tries to get you down to just one bag that will go under the seat, where my legs like to go instead. So two or three times they ask for your bags, which go with all the other bags to the claims area when you land rather than picked up in skyway. This I do not like because I don't like waiting in baggage claim, and there's a greater likelihood (I think -- how do I know?) that it gets lost. So I decline.

After seating first class and their loyalty program fliers, they then invite those who only have a bag to go under the seat to board next. Basically you're mini-royalty. And at least on casual inspection, I think more people responded to the incentive to get on the plane before those like me who insisted on using the overhead bins. This did not upset me at all -- I am benefited by having their bags not compete for space with mine, and if letting them on first is the cost of this, so be it. And it appears that Frontier had found a margin along which it could change people's behavior.

Perhaps it would work -- I will let you have all the chips you want first, if you don't touch the guacamole. But maybe not because it's guac and guac is good.

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