I’m in Ohio this week for a technical conference. Planning itineraries for trips like this reminds me why I loathe the airline industry. For example, Cincinnati’s airport is dominated by one carrier, Delta airlines. The lack of competition means airfares in and out of Cincinnati are much more expensive. Fare quotes were around $900 for a red-eye, sardine-packed flight. Considering this was what I paid for my trip to Trondheim earlier in the year, it seemed excessive.
A free market works both ways. If I don’t like the price, I’ll find alternatives. Using Kayak, a tool to automate the process by varying the days of travel and the airports visited, I found it cost $600 to fly from Seattle to Columbus, connecting through Cincinnati. Or Dayton. Or Lexington (home of Ben). Saving $350 is offset by the extra hop adding 2 – 4 hours extra time living the air travel experience, possibly connecting through an airport with a ginormous misery index. (Cough: O’Hare: 42% of flights are delayed.)
I lucked out and found a quirky non-stop from Seattle to Indianapolis. The 100-mile drive to Cincinnati took less than two hours, and I didn’t have someone recline into my face. (Who doesn’t enjoy counting the flecks of dandruff on the head of the person in front of you? Answer: Everyone) Fare cost: $400.
So then came seat selection…
The map above is typical of a trend airlines have where your selection is extremely limited if you’re not a precious metal card-carrying member or booking nine months in advance. This “selection” is the middle seats or the far back of the airplane in the nosebleed section. Any remaining [P]remium seats are freed up 24 hours in advance, but considering how full the airplanes are running, it’s a crap shoot. On the flight out to Indianapolis, I was checking the seat map on a random basis. I lucked out with an aisle seat becoming available in the middle of the plane. On the return leg through Memphis, I’m still looking at seat 98F. (Or maybe that’s the temperature of the interior of the plane?)
I think they’re making a mistake with the additional pricing of the seats called out as an add-on item. As a business traveler, I would be a lot more likely to shell out $15 for a non-shitty seat if I could do so at ticket time. (Having it appear as the overall ticket cost would make it easier to expense.) Adding this feature to the search engines would be nice.
And for my final rant, the airlines’ search engines: they generally suck. I’ve had timed-out sessions, fifty combinations of the same red-eye departure through Detroit (Yo, Northwest: what part about “I don’t want to leave any earlier than 6:00 a.m. are you not understanding?), bizarre and expensive itineraries on multiple airlines, or flights where one segment lacks available seats. Compare this to the wonderful interface on Kayak. You select your route, tell it how much wiggle room you want, then go to it. And check out the sliders. Don’t want more than one stop? Want to ignore the red-eye? Easy-peasy.