Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Flightbooking rant

WARNING: this is a rant. It is nothing to do with quilting. It is about consumer anger pure and simple.

I have to go to Northern Ireland at Christmas. I don't really want to, to start off with but its one of those family things. No airline can be blamed for that but bear in mind I do not go to booking with a glad heart to begin with.

There are two choices. EasyJet from Liverpool ( rubbish airline, rubbish airport - my personal opinion but I can cite good evidence!) and BMI Baby from Manchester (Good airline, fantastic airport). Usually we do not even bother looking at Easyjet.

So I go to BMI baby. Good airline. Crappy ( 'scuse french) flight times necessitating a two night stay to get decent time with the family. Oh joy. But hardly the end of the world. Very reasonable flight prices. Do I want to check a bag in? Well of course. Its Christmas. The whole point of going it to deliver presents, which inevitably include several very heavy tomes for my bookworm nephew Neil and a few hardbacks for crime novel reader Aunt Margaret. Bags cost £7.99. Well one between us will do. We are a generous aunt and uncle but Neil is not getting more than 20 kg of presents. I click to take a bag.

Fine, you may take a bag, says the computer. At the extra cost of £23.96.

Closer investigation reveals that it is £7.99 each way. I consider ditching the bag but then recall that I may well receive presents and even if we don't you can bet that we will be hauling back wholesale amounts of Dennis' childhood tastes of soda bread from the local bakery and mega-multi packs of Tayto Cheese and Onion crisps. But 2 x £7.99 is not £23.96. Turns out you pay £3.99 to check in at the airport rather than online. I am more than happy to check in online. But I am not allowed to because I have a bag. So I pay to check in.

This riles me. A lot. Enough that I decide to compare Easyjet prices. Easyjet now have this scrum system where they refuse to let you have an allocated seat even at airport check in. If you pay £11 each each way you get a Super Boarding card which allows you to be in the first group let onto the aircraft to scramble for seats. Trouble is, the entire flight can buy this super boarding pass and if a bus is used they guarantee that you are first on the bus but not that only Super boarders get on the bus or that Super boarders are first off. In other words, £11 for naff all. Each way. And if you don't get it they still let all the children and parents and the first 30 people at the airport on before you. My Type A-prone-to-airport-panic -attack personality is not readily compatible with the scrum system especially when the rules are loaded against me.

But, I am not stupid. I know that having the best seat on a plane does not really matter at all (except somehow it does).So I get a quote without Supernaffallboarding, despite that fact that really we both have a very strong preference for forward aisle seats. I reject the options to pay for insurance, hotels ,car hire, carbon offsetting, car park and a personalised sock monkey ( I made one of those up). It comes in at just shy of £70 cheaper than BMI.

Bugger. Because the very idea of flying with them stresses me and we are 4 months off going. Dennis shrugs. Up to me apparently. I want BMI Baby. No question. I go back to that site. It warns me that if we check in separately it cannot guarantee seats together. Well, I am a big girl. I flew to Germany alone as a young teenager. I can cope with my husband being in a different row. But still, I am tempted by the 'sale' price of £2.99 for pre-booking our ideal forward row aisle seats. No Type A-must-get-to- the-airport five-days-early- to-get -the-best-seat angst. All done dusted and what is £2.99 really? Well actually by airline logic £2.99 is £11.96.

Ho hum. I am starting to feel guilty for being an anxious snob. I leave the laptop and pace. I conclude that there is a price I am willing to pay for a good airline and good facilities. I proceed to book BMI Baby. The flights which started at £79.96 (taxes included) for the two of us now mysteriously cost £163. Still.

Then I get to payment. Turns out it is £163 if I pay with a BMI Mastercard. It is £171 if I pay with a debit card and £175 if I use any other credit card. This does not rile me. This RILES me. How can this be? Now I refuse to fly with either unethical, cheating, no-good company. I refuse. But I also refuse to drive to Scotland and sail for hours in December seas. My family refuse to come here (one of the reasons why it annoys me to have to go there - although my parents in law are quite elderly, albeit healthy, and my reasonable point on that does get less reasonable as time goes on, which does not mean they play fair just that they hung in there and won. But I digress. And while I am doing that can I point out that there have been two major airline incidents this week and both with cheap airlines?)

Anyway, my husband refuses to let me not go. He has a fair point here, after all it is not as if I am being asked to pay four pints of blood and my pancreas for the privilege of swimming to Ireland. It is a flight. A short one. To see really, really nice people. (Mostly. Two are not at all nice and that is another reason I don't like going. But I digress again.)

I will get over it. Eventually. (After I have subjected you to a rant). Interestingly it is a perfect example of the philosophy in a book I was reading today Enough by John Naish. Basically he champions the benefit of us knowing that we have enough and illustrates that getting more does not help us be happier. One example is having enough choices.

If there had been an airline charging £175 from the start I actually would think that £87.50 to get to Northern Ireland is pretty good. I am not someone who wants the cheapest of everything over quality. But the fact that I have to choose between two different but equally imperfect options is not helpful because - as Naish says - we tend to want the best features of both choices and that option inevitably does not exist ( It would on Air Quiltland of course but then Air Quiltland would have seats with 38 inch pitch and I'd be in the royal cabin anyway and so there would be no need for Superripoffruntobeatthesockmonkey boarding.). But also because I have been presented with a list of choices all aimed at enabling me to feel I can pare the flight down to cheap as chips I get thoroughly stressed when I have to 'pay' for unavoidable options or even highly desirable options.

Strangely this is also an example of a theory of 'differential pricing' I read about is one economics book. Starbucks for example have a dilemma. They know that Person A will happily pay say £3 for a coffee. But if they price it at £3 they will lose customer B who can only pay £1.50. So, they price a plain Americano at £1.50 and allow customer A to add his optional extras for an additional £1.50. Both customers are happy because they get the different experiences they pay for and want. Starbucks are very happy because Superdecaffhazelnutsyrupsoymilk does not in fact cost them anywhere approaching £1.50 to produce . Nor for that matter does an Americano.

I say strangely because I am a very aware person when it comes to consumer targeting, differential pricing and advertising. I can spot the false messages in advertising a mile off and they do not work on me. I will only ever buy a tall tea in Starbucks, because the extra for a medio ( or whatever they call it) is not worth it for extra hot water that goes cold before I can drink it anyway. In fact I will not buy a paper cup of Starbucks each morning with the rest of the suited and booted business people of Liverpool because I have a kettle and a pile of Earl Grey teabags in the office and do not define status or well being by a logo. I am resistant to their tactics.

But I am a sucker for it with airlines. Which leads me to self analyse and conclude that whilst not having dollops of cream melting all over the edge of my hot chocolate or being deprived of a shot of organic fairtrade yaks milk does not make me anxious, rude staff, late flights, obnoxious fellow passengers and knees around my neck do make me anxious and stressed. Which makes me conclude that I am about to go and book BMI Baby. Not least because Liverpool has a dire cafe and at least T3 at Manchester has a Starbucks.


floribunda said...

thank you for this post! totally made my day... did you know that Air New Zealand plans to fly us from San Francisco to Auckland -- about 12 hours -- with no food? AND no sock monkey?

Quilt Pixie said...

Maybe, for an extra weight charge (I assume you're over 20kilos), you could ride as luggage and only pay for hubby's seat? :-)

Julia said...

.... and do you feel better now for having a good old rant? Made me smile anyway. Anyway, barristers don't rant do they - give inaccurate time estimates, yes, but rant - never!!! LOL


Julia (a meagre court clerk at BCJC) :0)

Gina said...

What about the Holyhead to Ireland Ferry. That's noot too far away for you.

Love and hugs Gina xxx

Vicky said...

Having just booked a flight, I can sympathize. My destination is too far to drive, so I had to bite the bullet and just do it. The baggage issue RILES me, too!

blackbearcabin said...

Im not sure which part was funnier...the fact that you dread going there to see the in-laws, the choice of airlines, or that you have to spend your holiday doing something you clearly dont want. Sounds a lot like everyone elses life during the holidays :) doh!
Hope it turns out golden just the same!

anne bebbington said...

I suppose I'll get my head shot off when I peer over the top of the parapet to suggest the obvious 'Don't go!' or 'Go at a different time when they're not guaranteed a captive market.' Ok maybe not :o) Either way, good luck with your trip

katelnorth said...

yeah. we had this kind of crap when we went to ireland (south) recently on ryan air. the whole extra charge to check in, in person except that our flight wasn't actually eligible for online check-in. Priority boarding (which was crap leaving LHR but actually worked on the way back, which was nice). And so on. airlines just basically suck.

Anonymous said...

I live in the USA and as a family of 3 want to visit the UK. Our bank card does not let us spend the amount 3 tickets cost so we had to pay for the other ticket on a different card. Couldn't do it on line. We went to our local airport and they still wanted $25 each ticket for booking even though they were sitting in front of their computers. Paper tickets were and extra $50 per ticket. I spent 73 minutes on the telephone booking our tickets. What a hassle for such an easy thing to do. Tickets are now booked for a months holiday.

Elaine Adair said...

Hope you feel better. I 'quit' after the paragraph with all those comparison - I would stay home -- my style. Can't wade through all the choices, so MY choice is NO choice. (hm I have no staying power)

(But I'd miss the sock monkey, the only part of the flight that was enticing!) LOL

Just how does this improve airlines reputation by working this way?

Feather on a Wire said...

Love this post.
I go round the supermarket having to make the same decisions.
Life could be so much easier......
But then would I be happy without the wonderful French wholemeal? Plus the stoneground sliced wholemeal.
Just booked a holiday where I got the upgrade to sea view included but I wanted beach front. I must have been stupid to consider they were one and the same thing........
I won the battle and got the beach front but was it worth the stress?