Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I've decided that the only thing in the world more difficult than figuring out a way to bring peace to the Middle East is figuring out how airline fares are calculated.

Yesterday I spent much of the day trying to get an affordable flight for Agnes and I from Washington DC to Dayton, Ohio to visit our grandchildren. I managed to locate and book flights for a round-trip cost of about $403...painful, but not too bad. But then I discovered I'd asked for the wrong return date - Monday, instead of the previous Sunday. When I made the change, the per-ticket charge zoomed from $403 to $654. Now what kind of silliness is this?

The price of those tickets went up by $251 in the space of about 15 minutes, and made it impossible for both of us to make the trip. So what happened? Did the earth suddenly balloon in size, making the distance to be flown longer and more expensive? Did the airline, during those 15 minutes, suddenly buy more jet fuel at a higher price? Did one of the unions stage a sudden wildcat strike and gain a big raise for its members? I suspect that one reason is that I wanted to fly on Sunday rather than on Monday - since more people want to fly on the weekend, the airlines feel justified in charging you more for the privilege, regardless of what the flight actually costs.

I will never understand airline ticket prices. Evidently, neither do the airlines, since they all seem to operate at huge losses. Some time back I read a wonderful satire of airline pricing that showed what it would be like to buy house paint if hardware stores priced paint the same way the airlines price included gems like the paint being more expensive if you are going to paint on the weekend rather than on a weekday, or less expensive if you paint one side of the house on Friday and the other side on the following Monday. I thought it was hysterical and right on the money. But my daughter, who is an international trade compliance analyst at the Department of Commerce, didn't think it was funny at her, worshiping as she does at the festooned altar of economic theory, airline pricing makes perfect sense.

So, let's do something easy. Hand me that Middle East peace plan again and let's take another look...

Have a good day. Good luck if you're flying...stop by the bank for a loan on the way to the airport.

More thoughts tomorrow.


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