Tuesday, 7 September 2004
The Amazing Race 5, Episode 10
Kolkata, West Bengal (India) - Auckland (New Zealand) - Rotorua (New Zealand)
When the airline counter staff in Bangkok tell them no seats are available on the flight they want, twins Karli and Kami (who actually know they have reservations only on a later flight) don't hesitate: they lie, claim they had confirmed reservations on the earlier flight, and (when they are told they have no reservations at all on the earlier flight), pretend to cry. They did get on the flight -- although probably neither because of the lying nor the crying, but simply because there were, as almost always, some "no-show" confirmed passengers who changed their plans without telling the airline. But every airline employee or travel agent watching the show must have been rejoicing when they got their comeuppance: they got lost on the roads of New Zealand, finished last at the end of the day (actually, after dark, although all the other teams finished in daylight), and were eliminated from the race around the world for US$1 million.
We've seen this sort of seemingly casual and automatically dishonesty from other teams in the race this season, with the (otherwise often charming) cousins Mirna and Charla making up stories ranging from "I need to get to a doctor" to "I have an emergency" to try to get ahead of other racers as well as other ordinary travellers -- some of whom may have had real emergencies.
Unfortunately, behavior like this is routine, even when there is nothing like a million dollars at stake: real passengers routinely make up the most implausible (but difficult to disprove) lies to try to get on planes ahead of their fellow travellers. If airline staff don't believe you when you say you thought you had confirmed reservations, or that exigent circumstances justify giving you a higher priority on the waiting list, blame all the other passengers who lie (and/or cry) at check-in counters every day.
All of this could become even more significant if a major airline in the USA goes bankrupt and is liquidated, as seems ever more likely. Bankruptcy doesn't necessarily mean liquidation, but it could, as I discuss in my FAQ about Airline Bankruptcies /bankruptcy.html . The only limited legal protection that ticket holders in the USA have if a USA-based carrier goes bankrupt is with other USA-based airlines that fly the exact same route, on a space-available basis . That means, among other things, that if you have tickets on connecting flights, you will have to standby for the first flight, then standby for the next flight once you get to the connection airport, with substantial risk of getting stranded en route.
Many smaller airports in the USA are served by only one scheduled airline, and in a much larger number of cases each of the airlines serving a secondary airport does so from their separate hubs, so that no two airlines fly exactly the same route or would have any obligation to transport holders of tickets on a bankrupt former competitor. Many international city pairs are served by only a single USA-based airline (if any at all).
But even if an airline bankruptcy leaves another USA-based airline still flying the same route, they are unlikely to have enough seats to accommodate all the holders of tickets on a major USA-based airline like United, US Airways, or (on the routes it flies between the islands) Hawaiian. Even when much smaller airlines like Vanguard and National stopped flying in 2002, their ticket holders struggled to find space available on other airlines, often having to wait for days after their intended travel dates. If a major hub-and-spoke airline shuts down, ticket holders will be lying, cheating, and, I expect, fighting for the limited seats available on other airlines' flights, at least for several weeks.
I hope that, in their place or that of the racers, you and I wouldn't behave so badly. And I hope (for travellers' sake) that bankrupt airlines are liquidated and their assets taken over by other airlines before, rather than after, they cease operations and strand their ticket holders -- and without more government subsidies except if accompanied by a corresponding degree of restoration of government regulation of airlines to protect consumers.
[Addendum: 12 September 2004: I was in Oakland at the Red Sox game during the first broadcast of this episode on 7 September 2004. By the time I got a chance to watch my recording of this episode, US Airways declared bankruptcy on Sunday, 12 September 2004. See my FAQ and the Airlines and Airfares section of my blog for what travellers can do, and what Congress needs to do to protect our rights.]Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 7 September 2004, 23:59 (11:59 PM)