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Oct 23, 2009

Measurements on the Fly

Greetings from airTran flight 305, Denver to Atlanta*.  I'm having my first airline Wi-Fi experience and I like it.  I definitely like it better than the crazy vibe that marred our last moments at the gate -- with several attendants rushing and barking at passengers who couldn't find space for their bags.

My Denver friend Ken is a first officer for a major airline, and just this week he was telling me about one of the industry's particular stupids.  It turns out that crew ratings (and their bonuses) are highly dependent on their on-time departure numbers, so they work like crazy to make their schedule, and often piss off passengers in the process.  They get left at the gate, or run like cattle in the plane.  In theory, the airlines want on-time departures because passengers say they want them.

The error, as Ken points out, is that passengers don't really care about departure times.  They care about arrival times -- making connections and getting home (or to meetings) on schedule.  Pilots can make up a lot of time in the air, so a few minutes on the ground aren't a big deal -- especially if you communicate.  "Hello folks.  We're a few minutes late taking off, but don't worry -- we've got good weather over Nebraska and have found a route that will get you to Atlanta right on time."  

Related: Ken also wants supermarket cashiers to skip the price check when there are long lines. For as much money as the store spends to get you there -- why hold up the world while someone checks whether a can of beans is $1.29 (like the scanner says) or $1.19 (like the customer thought it said at the aisle)?  Instead -- spend the dime.  Move the line.  Trust the customer and let them tell their friends how "Safeway took my word over the computer -- there's still hope for humanity!"


*continuing to Rio de Janiero.  Dang!  If only I could stay on -- especially since I'm in business class today -- but I'm switching planes and heading home to Durham.  See you there soon, if there's where you are.

Photo from Paul Stamatiou's blog, with an in-depth description of how airline WiFi works, and a screenshot of his speedtest numbers (1.52 to 2.6 MBPS down).  My only bummer is that there are no electric plugs and my Lenovo has ween batteries... but I'll live.  For Atlanta to RDU, I can continue reading Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm, while stretching my legs in a reclining emergency-row seat (yes, I'm a 5'6" traveler who'll grab the good seats any time he can.)

04:03 PM in Traveling | Permalink


Business class is great today -- there's a dog up here, too! His name is Mavrick, and he's a hearing assistance dog. His owner normally wears ear plugs but takes them out at night to sleep. If the dog hears a sound, he's trained to jump up on his owner, then run toward the sound -- whether a smoke alarm, phone, or doorbell, etc. Pretty cool.

Posted by: Phil | Oct 23, 2009 4:14:37 PM

Didn't know about the perverse incentives re departure time; it explains a lot about a recent experience. I walked up to a flight at RDU last week 12 minutes before scheduled departure (after a semi-leisurely lunch at the Gordon Biersch about 50 feet away) to find it abandoned. I peeked down the jetway (the door was open but no one was standing there), when an airline employee roused herself from a chair in the passenger waiting area and asked if I wanted to get on the plane. I said yes and she nearly panicked.

Of course, after being rushed down the jetway and ushered directly to my seat (the FA was even standing over my seat with his arm extended, just in case I don't get the number-letter thing, I suppose), we proceeded to sit there for at least another 5 minutes before they even closed the door.

Posted by: B | Oct 23, 2009 10:53:39 PM