(Editor’s note: Dave Danforth is on assignment this week, so we are publishing one of his past columns. This one originally ran September 1, 2002, nearly a decade ago. Its subject, B. Ben Baldanza, is now CEO of Spirit Airways, where he has added fees such as the ones imagined here.)
Note to B. Ben Baldanza
U.S. Airways, Pittsburgh
You missed a chance at true greed when you wrote that suicide note this past week. You know, the one that said you were going to start charging passengers who miss their flights, and try to get them to pay the thousand-dollar-plus “regular fare.”
Whatever it takes to sink an airline. Right, B-Ben?
But why be a wimp? Why settle for merely charging passengers for things that cause your flights to fly late or get canceled?
Finally, someone in the business world makes sense. B-Ben, I read that wisdom that you wanted to “clean up your balance sheet” and rid your airline of all those nasty passengers who haven’t got the sense to go for fares that usually are paid with other people’s money.
You’ll clean up your balance sheet because they’ll all go away! Clean balance sheet and clean airplanes to match. You’ll save millions because clean-up crews can be laid off when there’s nobody left on the airplanes to make a mess!
You’ve already caught onto the latest way to squeeze more money out of passengers with no extra service — start charging for those nasty pieces of luggage. Nail those ninnies for every inch by which bags exceed the official 62 inches (width plus depth plus height). Don’t give customers a full can of soda when you might be able to recycle the rest.
But now, let’s get serious.
You need to lay off a few more agents, right? So start charging customers $25 to talk to one. Implant a bar code on each forehead (just like in those bank ads) and get serious about electronic ticketing. If they want an argument, sure, we can arrange that for a mere $50 for the first five minutes. A scant $10 a minute to bitch at an airline agent; $20 a minute if you come dressed in mink (hey, these are the only folks paying thousands of their own money on the highest fares).
Why charge only customers who are late for their flights? Don’t discriminate. Assess a fee if they get there early, too. Passengers who are early scuff up your lounges, go to the john too much, and generate more waste. Henceforth, it’ll cost them, what, $20 per 15-minute period by which they arrive more than an hour before their flight time.
And why pay those rich gate and airport fees that come with plush waiting areas complete with seats? If they want to sit, make them pay! Customers are accustomed to standing in endless lines anyway.
Automate the process. Henceforth, sitting in an airport lounge will work like a laundromat. You put four quarters in, you get half an hour. When your time’s up, you put more money in, or the chair upends on a special hydraulic lift. A lounge seat just became an ejector seat.
I mean, B-Ben, you’re an executive. No more half-hearted buried messages. If you’re serious about getting rid of those pesky low-fare customers, tell them so! Fee them to death until they go away. They’re only over 90 percent of your passenger base. Surely you can make it on the remaining 10 percent? They’re better dressed and better behaved than the rest. And you could waive the fees when they get angry and decide to take it out on an agent.
Charge the rest of us fees to watch these shouting matches. Inquiring minds want to know, B-Ben. You’ve got a bunch of curious folks with a few spare bucks? Milk them!
It’s a real pain in the airline business to provide information to passengers. It costs money for those people to get on the speaker systems and monitors to tell people what’s going on with their flight.
Charge them for it! News that a flight’s been delayed will continue to be free, but why not get a fee of, say, $10 to tell folks each time a new estimated departure time is set?
Of course, if the flight’s canceled, you can charge folks a fee to rebook them on the flight of their choice. Otherwise, they’re all on the next red-eye out.
Personally, B-Ben, I would charge these beloved customers a fee each time they threaten to leave U.S. Airways forever and go to some back-woods outfit like Southwest or JetBlue, which hasn’t had the smarts yet to embrace a perfectly good way to make money.
Now let’s talk about the restroom hogs. Everybody hates it when the same body is always making round-trips to the john. From now on, the third visit will cost $10, fourth will fetch $15, and so on. You could make more off your johns than you do off the fares.
Finally, B-Ben, why simply charge passengers to get on the plane? Remember Charlie on Boston’s MTA? Some of the longer lines charged folks when they reached their destination as well as when they got on. Let your passengers pay a fee to get off, too. A mere $20 gets you the right to get up early, before the rest of the flock, and get out of there.
With any luck, B-Ben, you’ll be grounded by Christmas.
The writer (email@example.com ) is a founder of the Aspen Daily News and appears here Sundays.