Service and Profit

As noted earlier on the website news section, I was in New York City last week for a signing at Singularity & Co. The night before we left to return home, an email from the airline revealed that we had been placed on an earlier flight, necessitating our rising far, far, earlier than we had anticipated. There was no explanation, but when I reviewed the airline’s schedules, the carrier had shifted the times of the two flights we had been on by roughly fifteen minutes each, so that a forty-five minute layover had become fifteen. I understand adjusting schedules, but what I found interesting – and irritating – is that I’ve been flying a fair number of miles on book business for the past twenty years, and this has happened at least four times in the last two years. I don’t recall a single instance in the eighteen years before, and I’ve actually traveled a bit less in the last two years. I’ve also noticed that connecting times tend to be either around forty minutes or over two hours, unless I’ve been flying very heavily traveled routes. I’ve talked this over with other travelers, and most of them have noticed a similar trend. Either way, I’m either worried and rushed or wasting time in connecting airports.

Now I realize that the so-called deregulated airline industry is still heavily regulated and that there are only limited number of landing and take-off slots at major airports. That means every schedule change affects an airline’s entire schedule. I also know that commercial aircraft are not getting faster, or slower, but posted flight times are now longer than ever, simply because of greater and greater ground delays. Because the airlines don’t want most of their flights listed as “late,” they just factor in delay time as well. This means that on some flights I take semi-regularly I can arrive as much as a half hour early or ten to twenty minutes late. Then there are the fees for baggage – although I do fly enough that so far I don’t have to pay those – and the dropping of food service in cattle class, and even fees for telephone [as opposed to internet] ticketing. And with the excess baggage charges, every square inch – and more – is filled on most flights.

In a similar vein – although it won’t seem so at first reading – almost every institution I do business with is pushing me to “go paperless,” supposedly for environmental reasons. Why would I want to do that? For all too many of them, I have expenditures that are business-related, and the IRS isn’t about to trust my word about writing expenses. They want receipts and bills, on real paper. If I go “paperless,” then I’m the one who has to spend ink, time, and money printing out what I need, and the “environment” still suffers.

Likewise, more and more businesses are adopting automated telephone answering systems, where there are no real people unless you can punch-button your way to them. And all too many of those systems lack an option for services or items not on the menu. I know… I’ve tried.

All these items make one thing very clear. None of these changes are really for the benefit of the traveler or customer. They’re designed to add revenues, maximize profits, or to reduce costs, regardless of the inconvenience or added time or cost to travelers or customers.

The thing is – as customers we’re still paying as much, if not more, as ever, and we’re getting less… and no one seems to say much, even as corporate profits soar.

5 thoughts on “Service and Profit”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    The airlines if not all others have something of an excuse. Fuel costs (and previous over-generous union deals) squeeze them hard, and few are all that profitable.

    Most others? Of _course_ they want to reduce expenses while still taking in as much or more. For the larger ones, there are rising costs for healthcare and such for which they don’t get a “get out of jail free” card.

    Whatever it is, we all (who participate in the most necessary levels of producing goods and services) pay one way or the other. Any attempt to change that simply rearranges the number of hands (and their identities) that the money travels through in between. And investors expect a return that more than compensates them for the risk, on average.

    The point of capitalism is that it gives a sometimes productive and mostly less dangerous than cattle-rustling outlet for the very natural greed in human nature.

    I don’t think there’s any human authority we could trust to reprogram us all to be virtuous (and I think most government-sponsored PSA’s are the sort of propaganda, even if not particularly political, that has little place in a free society). And the attempts to compel more than a bare minimum of the symptoms of virtue will always have consequences and inefficiencies.

    The price of liberty is that greedy people can be greedy, and poor people can be hungry. There’s no way to make everyone nice and well taken care of, and still have freedom; because the point of freedom is that individual choices and actions, for better or worse, make a difference. If everything were provided for, even if there were magically the resources to satisfy infinite demand, then nothing would really matter at all.

    1. Steve says:

      @ R. Hamilton: You put my thoughts into words. Well said.

    2. Most of what you’ve said is true enough. What you’re ignoring is that, without government supervision, far too many of those “greed is good” individuals and corporations are all too willing to produce goods or provide services in ways that are dangerous, if not fatal, to both consumers and their employees. Too little government supervision, and people die; too much, and businesses and the economy suffer. There’s always going to be a debate as to where the “line” is between too much and too little, but history definitely shows that too little is injurious, if not fatal, to too many.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        Workplace safety is in my opinion the one legitimate role for unions, whose own greed has often harmed even their members in the longer term. And those workplaces (such as some mismanaged mines) that have chronic problems deserve both unions and regulation. But many don’t, and yet they get at least as much red tape as the worst do.

        Consumers…despite being one, I’m all for caveat emptor at least as much as for regulation. Stupidity should be fatal. Perfectly decent products (like the Ajax dish detergent with lemon juice) get banned because some people don’t get the difference between detergent and lemon juice. Lawn darts were banned because idiot kids could kill each other with them. Duh. Those who fail to supervise their kids and teach them…the kids will pay the price, but better that than that we pay the price for those kids if they survive.

        I do understand the concept of balance. But my view is that the perceived center has been propagandized far to the left over the last 90 years or so. Not all done since then should be undone, by any means. But a lot should, and more than that, _most_ laws should expire after awhile unless renewed. The massive burden of infringements we’re subject to is at least partly because the legislators all want to be seen _doing_ something about a problem, even if the accumulation of their actions is a problem in itself. We really shouldn’t have to live with the legislative trash from elections 50 years ago.

        1. suicidal idiot says:

          Having played with the aforementioned lawn darts in my youth, I know from experience that they were incredibly dangerous, and worse yet, had incredible range.

          They were thrown underhand, and had a bit of a learning curve…

          An errant throw could send them flying way off into the neighbor’s yard with stomach dropping fear of the results. Not to mention the releases that accidentally went almost straight up, sending everyone screaming and running for cover. Since they were often played with during the cooler summer nights, they would vanish upward until the invisible bolt from above came down.

          I must reluctantly agree with pulling them from the market, since their capacity for injuring/killing was far more likely to be visited upon innocent bystanders than properly (from a darwinian viewpoint) the thrower.

          If I were to chance upon a set in a garage sale, I would certainly buy them, not only for the sake of nostalgia, but to keep them out of the neighbor kids’ hands.

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