Ground Clutter

Jan. 8, 2005
Yield? What Yield?
Recently I called Delta to change a ticket. The nice lady said it would cost about $350 to change the ticket but only $100 to cancel the ticket. I may be old and fat, but I'm not stupid. I cancelled the ticket faster'n you can say "T'hellwithit," hung up, called a different Delta lady, and bought a brand new Delta ticket for the same price as the old one. (Hey, if Delta wants to play by silly rules, it's OK by me.) Yield management rules the airlines, and may be the reason the industry spirals downhill like the resale value of a Kerry bumper sticker. During Florida's recent Hurricane of the Week program, friend Bryan had a Delta ticket from Birmingham, AL, to Grand Rapids, MI. The day before the flight, he learned that one of those hurricanes (Ivan?) was scheduled to flush through the Birmingham area about the time his flight was supposed to depart. Bryan, figuring a hurricane beats a CRJ every time, called Delta. "Ma'am, I know you aren't supposed to change that ticket without charging enough to bail out Social Security, but we both know that flight is not going to fly tomorrow. You will cancel it and refund the money I paid you. Why don't you just keep my money and put me on a flight today? I've checked and you do have seats available?" Delta wouldn't change the ticket without gobs of additional money. Bryan drove to Michigan. His flight was canceled the next day and Delta refunded his money. In the name of yield management the airlines have removed authority from those who deal with customers and given it to bean counters and computers in remote offices. Rules are not adjusted even when it would profit the airline. Does that really make sense? Along the way, they have developed employees who know that their job is not to think, but to slavishly follow rules designed to protect the airline from the customers. In the past, we could say, "They must know what they're doing; they're making money." Today they hemorrhage money faster than anybody but Congress and irritate their best customers (Bryan and I both used to be Platinum Medallion with Delta) by treating us inanely and by seating us next to someone who brags of paying half what we did. Airline employees often blame this on the market "deregulation" of a quarter-century ago. Truth is, it has more to do with the market "regulation" during the half century before, when airlines operated by what amounted to cost-plus. Airlines could go to the guvmint, display their costs, and ask for higher ticket prices. After market deregulation, competition reared its ugly and inconvenient head, fares dropped, and everybody started flying. Discount airlines stole a big part of the business. Costs became important. Yield management seemed an answer from heaven. Has it gone too far? Bryan and I knew the rules when we bought those tickets. We have no gripe. But both times Delta would have come out better if it had adjusted those rules. Instead, Delta motivated us to act as silly as Delta did.