Lessons from the Road

In 1986, in my first column for this publication (or, actually for its predecessor, FBO magazine) I bemoaned the sad state of the airline industry and my own stupidity. It’s hard to believe the schedule I used to keep back then, at age 45. That seemed old to me then, but now I know better.

In the month that the column was written, I airlined across this continent six times. No way could I do that now. On one of those trips my own stupidity cost me big time. I checked my baggage on a tight schedule which — in those days before baggage tags had bar codes — was not smart. As I wrote in the column, “My mother raised me better than that, and I knew better.” I paid dearly for that error.

That statement came to mind just a few weeks ago when I once again broke one of my own rules of airline travel. I have known for decades that one should always take the first flight of the day, if at all possible. But, in a brief moment of temporary insanity I broke that rule, not because it was necessary but just because it was more convenient to take a late afternoon flight out of Asheville, NC (AVL). The flight was delayed, then delayed again and, finally, cancelled. That night was spent trying to sleep in a motel in Asheville while worrying about my speech scheduled for the next night in Grand Junction, CO. I was sore afraid. I made it, but not without great stress.

Let me say, BTW, just to keep myself in the good graces of friend Lew Bleiweis, airport director at AVL, and friend Bob Hall, who flies for US Airways, that the problem was caused by neither AVL nor US Airways, but by a widespread weather problem

A few weeks later, on my next trip out of AVL, you can bet your largest frequent-flyer account that I took the first flight out. No problems with the schedule that day, but I learned a couple of things that surprised me. In Charlotte, NC (CLT) I learned that the nice people who drive those carts with pax from one end of the airport to the other are not allowed to take tips. I was surprised. Obviously, the airport believes the no-tipping rule provides better service for customers — but I wonder. It seems to me that a tip, or the hope of a tip, provides an incentive to provide great service.

On that same trip, at the Daytona Beach, FL (DAB) airport I went outside to catch a taxi. When I told the scheduler where I was going, another fellow standing there said, “I’m going to the same hotel. Do you want to split a taxi?” I certainly did, but the scheduler quickly said that we couldn’t do it. It was an airport rule. We could ride together, but we’d each have to pay the regular fare. He admitted that if we had come out to the cab stand together and requested a ride for two we could have split the fare, but not if we arrived separately.

I was bewildered. How could that rule possibly be best for customers? I later called DAB, talked with operations manager John Murray, and learned that this was an error by a relatively new employee. The airport does not have such a rule. I was delighted to hear it.