Getting lucky in the air

No, not like that. With tickets. I returned late last night from a short trip back home to Spring, TX and had a few fortunate experiences with American Airlines coming and going.

The first was the familiar situation of having a flight that’s over capacity. When this happens the airlines entice willing passengers to take a later flight with various offers. This is a win-win situation: over-booking flights creates lower costs for airlines and passengers, and when too many passengers show up the auction ensures that those who can most easily afford to change their schedules are the ones to do so. In my case, that meant agreeing to hang out at Reagan International for a few extra hours in exhange for a free flight voucher and an upgrade to first class.

This is a routine occurence now, but econ-savvy readers know that it took the brilliance of economist Julian Simon to make it happen. In the bad old days, airlines dealt with over capacity flights by arbitrarily bumping the passengers they believed would offer the least complaint. This made flying an unreliable mode of transportation and did nothing to efficiently distribute costs. Simon came up with the idea of offering passengers inducements to switch. The airlines scoffed until, finally, American Airlines gave it a try. Today they all do it. As I landed at Houston Intercontinental in the comfort of a leather seat and with a free ticket voucher in my bag, I silently thanked Julian Simon for his simple idea.

Walking back into Houston Intercontinental, I almost lost that ticket voucher just as easily as I had obtained it. My dad had dropped me off and as I approached the short line at the check-in counter I anticipated an easy, unhurried walk through security and onto my plane. I swiped my credit card through the reader, and it recognized me as Jacob R Grier. It could do this because it’s standard industry practice to put a customer’s name on the first stripe of magnetic data on a card’s magstripe. As I reflected on this thoroughly useless fact, I silently thanked the in-flight magazine that taught it to me the last time I traveled.

The machine asked for the first three letters of my destination, I typed in “WAS,” and it dutifully searched for my itinerary. After an abnormally long wait, it informed me none could be found. “That’s odd,” I thought, and tried again for my stop over in Dallas. “DAL” I typed and the machine once again performed a long search, found nothing, and suggested I talk to a ticket agent.

The agent came over, I gave her my name and flight number, and she looked for it in the computer. To our mutual confusion, nothing came up. Then she figured it out. “Oh, you’re supposed to be at Houston Hobby.” Of course. Houston has two large airports, located many miles apart. An hour before boarding I was checking in at the wrong one. This was a typically Jacob Grier kind of thing to be doing.

I weighed my options. Should I hustle for a cab and make a mad dash for the other airport? Or should I waste my precious flight voucher on another flight to D.C. to make up for the one I was about to idiotically miss? Luckily for me, the kind ticket agent was able to change my booking to a flight leaving Hobby for Dallas just three minutes later than my original flight would be leaving Intercontinental. Boarding my flight, I silently thanked her and American for not taking advantage of my inattention to detail.

In hindsight, I almost wish that they did make me use my voucher on the return leg of the very same trip I earned it on, just because that would have made a better story. Almost, but not quite.

Comments

  1. Mike M says:

    Yeah, those two Houston airports can really get annoying, especially when the one that has all the good flights is the one that’s an hour farther away than the one that only has Southwest.

    Good seeing you. Happy barista-ing and libertarian-ing!

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