Empty Tables – Because We Can

Eat.n Park
Eat’n Park is part of the yellow group and Faith usually manages to buy it.

One of the emerging family traditions in our house is for my daughter and I to play a board game when she is visiting for a holiday. A couple of years ago, I got lucky and found the “Pittsburgh Edition” of Monopoly on Craigslist. Faith loves to play that edition because she gets to own Eat’n Park. We usually have to put a time limit on the game, as we tend to buy our favorite places and trade the same few hundred dollars back and forth.

But not this year.

On Christmas I talked Faith into taking a few risks, buying a few more properties, investing her last few dollars in houses and hotels. She was apprehensive. She felt insecure without a comfortable bankroll of play money.

What’s the worst that can happen?” I asked. “You have to tear some houses down and mortgage some property. Real estate tycoons have been doing that for years.”

All the money
Potential airline executive? No, she’s too kind.

She listened. She invested. She bought, built and bullied me to the point that she possessed every $500 bill in the bank. At the end of the game, she had over $23,000. I had $63. One or two more rolls and she would have ground me into the dirt behind the Parker Brothers’ poorhouse. She didn’t take that step. She let me walk away with my dignity, my $63 and The Civic Arena and Three Rivers Stadium (the Pittsburgh equivalent of Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues).

She should be ashamed. If Monopoly was a game about airlines, she might be called for leaving money on the table.

That’s what happened at Jet Blue.

airline seats
I think we could squeeze a few more seats in there.

Jet Blue was known for providing a quality customer experience. They were letting people check bags for free, giving them room to almost stretch their legs, giving them a comfortable seat to sit in. They were putting 10 peanuts in each bag as opposed to the industry standard 8 (I made that up, but I’m probably close). They were also “leaving money on the table” according to their owners. During the course of the next year they will start charging for checked bags, strip the seats of some padding and scrunch them together a little closer.

According to the Jet Blue, they should be praised for not going as far as they could. They could charge even more for those bags. They could reduce legroom even further. They could strip even more padding out of those seatbacks. For that matter, they could outfit the plane with molded plywood seats like the desks we had in school. I can hear the President of Jet Blue now: “They sat in them for 12 years; surely a 3 hour flight isn’t going to kill anyone.”

No, but it’s going to make air travel an even worse experience, and don’t call me Shirley.” (Sorry, one of the other things we do on holidays is watch movies like Animal House, Caddyshack and Airplane).

The goal of not leaving any money on the table is at odds with providing a quality customer experience but airlines don’t care. Airlines don’t have to care. Airlines don’t have to provide a quality customer experience because customers really don’t have an alternative.

Oh sure, we can drive, but how far can you stretch that option? One of the places I am known to fly is Iowa. That’s 24-hours by Jeep. An airline doesn’t have to be good to convince me to fly; they just have to not be awful. If I have to pay a little more to avoid awful, I probably will. They know that.

Airlines only have to jump a little higher than other airlines to convince me to fly with them. Sadly, collectively, they keep lowering the bar. One airline that starts charging for bags is taking a risk. Once several others start charging for bags, individual airlines can tweak the pricing, bundle free bags with other promotions and appear to compete. Once “every airline but yours” is charging for bags, you look stupid. Your passengers love you, but you don’t need their love as much as you want their money.

Recently, a lot of my travel has been along the eastern seaboard. I can drive to Boston, and I have the luxury of being able to take AMTRAK as far south as Washington, D.C. I take the train every chance I get. All AMTRAK has to do is nothing, and they can continue to improve their customer service relative to the airlines. Unfortunately, AMTRAK’s ultimate management is the U.S. Congress and, while they normally excel at doing nothing, in this case, I worry.

When I do have to fly, I pay the price. Legroom has been reduced to the point that my 6’ 2” frame doesn’t fit in the cheap seats. I can either pay to check a bag, or pay to board the plane early enough to be able to find space in the overhead bin. I buy overpriced snacks in the terminal, but then I feel guilty eating them next to the poor woman who only has eight peanuts. Especially since “next too” is a distance that used to imply that vows and rings had been exchanged. Airlines have narrowed some seats to 17 inches. Toilet seats are, on average 13-14.5” wide so, technically the airlines are still leaving money on the table.

I shouldn’t single out the airlines. They’re an easy target but I could write a similar post about my cable company, the State of CT, the oil industry, banks and most major league sports teams. Customer service has become a quaint idea or a commodity for sale; it’s no longer part of the transaction. We’ve moved on from “the customer is always right” to “the customer might have more money” and everybody wants that money.

45 thoughts on “Empty Tables – Because We Can

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  1. Well, there was a time when people had a choice, and they chose cheap over comfortable. Ever fly People’s Express instead of Delta? or New York Air? That airline that had to change its name after they had a crash in the Everglades? Or how about Home Depot instead of your local hardware store because nails are a penny a pound cheaper there?

    You can’t just blame the owners of the airlines (and lets be clear, the employees get none of the benefits of the airline taking money off the table). Americans do it to other Americans. “They” don’t deserve to be paid that much for what “they” do (of course, “I” do, but that is another story.)

    Until we are willing to see other people make decent money for providing good service, this is what we will get.

    (Hey Dan, get the feeling you found a nerve here? :) )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Paul. It does seem that I hit a nerve and it’s common one. In most cases, I do agree with you about people choosing cheap over good and cheap hardware over good hardware is one of my pet peeves. Also, choosing a big box over the local guy bugs me (several posts mention that). The fact that Walmart and McDonald’s employees are encouraged to sign up for welfare benefits is near criminal, but you’re right, lots of people would not want to see prices rise by pennies in order to pay those people better. On the other hand, if those companies thought they could raise prices by pennies, I doubt they would give it to their employees.

      My focus on the airlines started after reading an article last week that was talking about how, in order to build demand for the “extra comfort” seats, they actually have to make some seats awful. I guess what we are heading to is the Peoples Express (and yes, I flew them once) section on the Delta flight.

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  2. The Monopoly story reminds me of our own last family holidays where we played the original version, nights in a row. Over the years, we received several other versions, offered from friends when we moved away. The real one is like vintage now and costs almost nothing since it is in the public domain. That’s another topic for a post!
    As for airlines companies, I’ve mixed feelings. I would be in favor of no first and business class so the space would be equally divided between passengers, meaning more leg room for everyone and more toilets too. But the people who are frequent flyers deserve some kind of reward too, so it’s a catch 22. Roomier restrooms so that older people and parents with babies could have easy acess would definitely be the best achievement. Enjoy the friendly skies!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I posted this earlier from my phone but I replied to the wrong person :(

      I was fine giving business class and first class as much room as they want given the price they pay or the points they use (cause they got those by flying a lot). Dividing coach into several classes just seems like they are going too far.

      As for the bathrooms, I can’t imagine changing a diaper in one of those.

      Air travel is going to only get worse as baby boomers get older. Maybe when I retire I’ll have the luxury of time to travel by train of car.

      Thanks for the comment Evelyne.

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  3. Nice segue from the monopoly story to the airline story, Dan. I feel for folks like you who fly often.
    On my last flight, I noticed that you have to pay for a blanket. I don’t know when this started happening. It’s sad that the little perks are no longer there.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Amtrak closed down here years ago so all we have is the option to drive or fly. And don’t you know no matter where you fly–even within the state–you have to fly through Atlanta! Extra fare on top of the bag charge and then holding your breath it doesn’t get lost at the connection. Pretty much between a rock and a hard place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I worked for Airborne Freight in the late 70’s and hub and spoke routing is how we moved cargo. I think that’s how the airlines view us now, we’re just cargo that has to be moved. More than anything, I wish we had more options to travel by rail and I wish they would build some fast trains.

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  5. Dan, your comment We’ve moved on from “the customer is always right” to “the customer might have more money” is way to accurate. That also covers extended warranties and fixed utility contracts. In this particular context I dislike it strongly ( the condition – not the observation ) when you are right. Now as to the value of First Energy Field in our local edition – I think it is the tax penalty… and we won’t even mention the occupants. However we are interested (again) in a coaching staff and a franchise quarterback… and as you might have notice since they who shall not be named moved back into town, there is no time limit on this game

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sports teams call the shots John and most cities will bend over backwards to keep any pro team they happen to have. Here in Hartford, they are looking at spending (bonding) big bucks to move a minor league baseball team from a town 8 miles away. If they don’t, the owner says he’ll move the team out of CT. I want to think that sooner or later, things will come back around but I’m not optimistic that it will be anytime soon. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. great post – and my FIL is here and he was just talking about flying in the 70’s when he worked and traveled first class and whew – he could tell some stories. anyhow, I enjoyed this post Dan – and this was so true!!

    “Airlines don’t have to provide a quality customer experience because customers really don’t have an alternative”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My wife was a Flight Attendant for a major airline starting in the 1970s and retiring in 2006. At first she loved her job. By the time she retired, she hated it. She often said “I do not have the time or the resources to give good customer service.” Unfortunately, irate customers did not have the air line President’s phone number to call and complain. So I guess they thought she could pass the word along.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel bad for the flight attendants today. You can tell that they are trying, and for the most part, they are the nicest people but they can’t make anything better. As you mentioned earlier, I’m sure they aren’t getting a slice of the increased fees. You can tell that they are under pressure to get people seated, but the struggle with carry-on bags and the wacky way they board the planes isn’t helping them at all.

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    1. The other thing that bothers me is self service checkouts in stores. They are fine for items you can scan, but produce in grocery stores and lumber in home improvement stores requires that I understand their (usually complex) system. It takes so much longer, especially if something goes wrong, but they don’t care because it’s my time that is being wasted, not their money.

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  8. Absolutely, Dan. i was thinking this the other day about, oh, I can’t remember, but it was something other than airlines, and it was profound (!), and kind of in the reverse: it was a service that one company started providing, and then all competitors had to provide to keep up. I think it was auto insurance, like accident forgiveness, or something. Now, I know insurance companies have the same bottom line as airlines: taking your money without giving any back, but it struck me that something like public pressure must have forced them to lower their rules to stay competitive, and that’s a good thing. Maybe airlines should face similar pressure. Do you have Southwest near you? I don’t think they charge for bags, but I don’t know about leg room. I do know your place in line is determined by how quickly you print your boarding pass: 24 hours in advance. Randomness, but good food for thought.

    Fondly,
    E

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Elizabeth for taking the time to comment. I do fly Southwest, but they have their own issues, not the least of which is the airports they use and the routing through them that’s required. They were absolutely awful in dealing with the crisis that was caused by the fire in Chicago in September. I was flying that day, and they basically fell apart. Their website was dead and you couldn’t get them to answer the phone. When I finally go through, I faced a 2-3 hour wait. They brought a little bit of competitive pressure to the Hartford to Des Moines flight, but ultimately, they rose their prices to match Delta. I fly them, but I pay the $12-18 to get in the A section for boarding. For leisure flights, they usually work well. For business, it often takes too long when you factor in landing in Ft Lauderdale instead of Miami having to have multiple stops along the way. None are good these days, some are better at some things but you have to be a savvy consumer.

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  9. Right on target with your comments…and unfortunately there isn’t anything we can do about it. New start-up companies get bought out by the bigger monopolies, so choice isn’t going to be an option anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Resonated with this post completely AND have a little more to add.
    We are business owners and treat customers with old-time politeness and so forth — and I have to say that now 50% of customers are fairly rude and too too many customers are downright abusive. They don’t answer emails about appointments, they stand you up thinking (and not listening/reading) that we are not an open-door drop in business like the supermarket. THEY HAVE YOU OVER WHEN THEY HAVE THE FLU TO ASSESS THEIR ITEMS (giving the gift that can knock us on our butts for a month is not so good for a small business owner as we don’t have sick pay — we WORK for our living or no pay!) I am amazed at potential customers who think it is okay to take up your time with estimates then not even have the courtesy to say, “no thank you.” These are involved estimates for expensive projects and they take TIME, not a listing off a sheet of specials that tells them “nine-ninety-nine will get you . . . ” This year I’ve decided we will charge for estimates because of the rudeness of customers taking up our time and if they decide to move forward with the project those $$ can be applied fully to the project. Customers don’t read their contracts (ours are two pages, not twenty, in English not legaleese). We’ve been yelled at when we asked for the items in the contract as if this was our problem.
    My husband is the nicest man ever, so he keeps me locked in the closet when an abusive client comes around, because I am not nice. (The last is a joke — I am polite, not nice and when bitten will bite back.) So in many ways I think that this is a breakdown on so many levels in society at large. Maybe businesses are tired of trying to conduct business in this climate and are just going for profit? It is all so uncivilized! All I can say is I am glad we are heading toward retirement! We will not fly but go by VW bus, hippy-style!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my! You have touched on the other side of my complaint, which is customers today. I guess it comes down to people today, but I think I would focus on what my best friend and I dubbed self-appointed-important-people. I ran a cabinet shop back in the ’80s and I know all too well about the time spent with estimates. I once drew up a set of plans for a kitchen that included an addition. The would-be customer filed those plans with the business office to get a building permit and then had a home center provide the cabinets to save $1,000. Thanks for adding to this story with your comment. I love it when that happens.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I did not know there was a Pittsburg monopoly game. I wonder how many other cities have their own version? Nice part about your monopoly game with your daughter. I do not fly too often but noticed recently that Southwest seating is like a sardine can. What leg room? But it is a short flight to SF Bay Area where I am usually going. I paid a little extra to go through the fast security line. It looks like we are going to have bullet train in California. I have often thought about the train as an alternative to flying but with our current trains there can be delays. So I am interested in this high speed version. We also have the Pacific Sunliner and the Starlight Express. I have not tried those yet to San Francisco. We do drive but it does take a good part of the day. Can’t beat the scenery though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have driven through CA in the long-ago past and it is beautiful. I also took the train from Seattle. I love trains, but I had to use weekend time to make it work. There is no longer a Pittsburgh Edition being made, but there are other cities and themes.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Dan – I won’t repeat what others have said, which I echo. The way you write about Faith, and the time you two spend together, makes me certain you are both very fortunate to have the relationship you’ve developed.

    Also, you wrote an excellent post – style, technique, flow, details. Well done!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Sammy. We are a small family, but I feel that I am truly blessed to have these people around me. Thanks too, for the comments on my writing. I struggle to get some of those things right so I’m happy that you think I did.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. It’s getting so bad. For years we had thousands and thousands of miles and flew business everywhere. Now we are “relinquished” to coach and my husband is 6’5″! It’s getting so hard for him to fly anywhere. And then we see short people in the exit aisle. *sighs*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Last fall, I added a 3rd leg to a business trip so I could return to CT from FL via Iowa. Don’t ask me to explain why that is even possible, let alone cheaper than flying from CT to Iowa. I realized that the leg from FL to Minneapolis (the part I was paying for) was over four hours in the air. My wife encouraged me to spring for the $39 for 4 more inches of legroom. $10 an inch and my knees still barely cleared the back of the seat in front of me. Each time I think it can’t get worse, it does.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post Dan. I would like to add insurance companies to the list. No longer do they fight for you even after you have paid in years’ worth of premiums and the accident isn’t your own fault! Airline seats have become a joke. Elbows in your lap. I always pray the person sitting next to me isn’t a full grown wiggler!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a recent very good experience with auto insurance, and a recent crummy experience with dental insurance. Seriously, I don’t know why I have dental insurance. Thanks Cheryl!

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  15. LOL, Dan…too true. I have flown a lot in the past few months. Ugh! I think I have to agree with 100%. Here’s what I have been noticing with EVERY flight, no matter the carrier: that ‘due to a full flight, the overhead carry-on space is going to be difficult to accommodate’ (announced over the intercom as we all queue up to board) SO, they announce that they would be happy to offer ‘free of fees’ to passengers ‘to check their carry-on’ allegedly assuring that the bag will arrive when the plane lands for that flight, no delay in retrieving the said checked bags. HUH? These airlines have in effect created a monster with their excessive habit of fees charged for everything. Nobody takes the offer of checking their bag…but alas, there seems to be enough room for the carry-on for the flight, every time. Odd. I think they ought to encourage people to check baggage by dropping the ridiculous fee to do so altogether. My hunch is that they announce the possible bin space “crisis” in order to meet the federal aviation safety standards of excessive carry-on stowage. Seems that anyone who might be around to inspect/discover the excess is always absent, though…the airline ends up getting by without a citation. Just my guess. Meanwhile, I watch the folks with their very bulky, over-packed baggage, as they board and always wonder to myself if the plane were to be in some sort of peril, during the flight, if those bin doors will be able to keep the bags secured and unable to harm or injure us if not. As it is I have come to detest flying as of late. It seems it is difficult to navigate terrible turbulence…seems the problem has been worsening, in my opinion. Last flight I looked out my window and quite literally witnessed a funnel cloud as we passed over Oklahoma, Texas region…terrible electrical storms with fierce lightning striking just below us…now, after this latest tragedy with Indonesia flight crash, I feel even less confident when the flight is in the middle of bad weather like that. It makes me nervous.
    Also, the cramped ‘smaller’ seats make me feel like a blimp…I haven’t changed too much over the years, weight-wise, but each time I have to fly it seems I might soon have to think of paying for a scosh more room to sit without being so ‘stuffed’ into the seat…
    :/
    BTW, I didn’t even know about the different versions available for the game of Monopoly. I refuse to play it…when I was still married to my ex, it was easily his favorite board game and he was impossible to play with…he had each space memorized and that drove me nuts. He seemed to have every known advantage against us novices, therefore I detest the game to this day! LOL!

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  16. Flying today would certainly be better for Morquie than CJ, that’s for sure. I don’t know why they do the check-your-bags-in-the-jetway deal, but it makes no sense to me as an option. If I have bags to check, I want them to move to my next plane as I am. I don’t want to be delayed to my connection, waiting in the ramp for my bags. Another thing that they’ve done is change the seat so that there aren’t clear divisions under the seats in all cases. I’ve had people put a large bag under the seat in a way that squeezes out to the space in front of me. I have a laptop backpack, and after we take off, I like to stand it up behind my legs and stretch into the under seat space. It’s awkward when I have to kick (sorry, move with my feet) my neighbor’s shopping bag turned luggage out of the way. Flights are crowded, they do try to be on time, but for their schedules, not ours and I don’t want to think about safety. The most amazing thing is that I don’t run into problem passengers often. I’ve met more than a few, but most people seem to be suffering in silence and a “lets get this over with” attitude.

    Monopoly seems to be one of those games. I remember playing with cousins who played by the rules. The would hold auctions for property, buy stuff so you couldn’t have it and sell it to others, and they played without putting the Chance/Community Chest money and taxes in center of board to be collected when landing on Free Parking. We normally play a kinder-gentler game, but a little competition over the railroads keeps it fun. Tanks, as always for extending the story.

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  17. This is post is heartfelt and deep. The last paragraph is the perfect summary:
    “I could write a similar post about my cable company, the State of CT, the oil industry, banks and most major league sports teams. Customer service has become a quaint idea or a commodity for sale; it’s no longer part of the transaction. We’ve moved on from “the customer is always right” to “the customer might have more money” and everybody wants that money.”

    I have had similar experiences. They just don’t care about customers anymore. Once they establish that their goods or services are mandatory and the chances of alternatives are rather dim, the customer is screwed. The cost of oil has, for instance, been dropping internationally since around mid last year. Yet here we still buy fuel at the same price as before. Recently, (two weeks ago to be precise) it was announced that it will take between 2-5 months for the drop to be felt in Nairobi. That the traders need that much time to lower their prices. But I tell you if it were an increase rather than a drop, they would have shot up the costs instantly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand your frustration with those prices Peter. I’ve seen that here, but on a mush smaller scale. We’ve had years where heating oil prices are dropping but we don’t see the lower price reflected in our delivery. Then, the price ticks up and we see the price immediately. Gas station owners often delay passing on decreases because they “have a higher priced inventory in their tanks” but they pass the increase right along without regard to what they paid for the gas you’re actually pumping. Even the airlines are doing it. An article in the Wall Street Journal claimed that Delta has saved over $2 billion on fuel in recent months – none of that savings has been passed onto consumers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bias alert! My wife is a Delta retiree….but I just want to note that Delta just had a “not as big as expected quarterly loss” this last quarter. So while I generally agree with the comments that we have going on, I just want to point out that each case is different.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wow Paul – I just read that they saved almost $2 billion on fuel costs recently. Personally, I wish they would just set ticket prices at a level that would allow them to make money, pay their staff and give me those 2 cookies.

          It’s the same wish I have for everything. I’d gladly pay $2.25 instead of $1.92 for a cup of coffee if Dunkin Donuts would provide decent medical coverage for their staff. If you want to read something scary, http://www.fastcompany.com/47593/wal-mart-you-dont-know

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