Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back in the blogging game!

Alright, I'm back home for a while, so I'll self-impose a more rigorous blogging output upon myself for the foreseeable future. A few thoughts I've had recently:

- I flew a couple of short Southwest flights over the past few days. For the uninitiated, Southwest does not assign specific seats on their flights. Instead, over the years, I've seen their boarding process evolve as follows:

1) My first recollection-- arrive at airport, check in, and receive a plastic, airline re-usable state-shaped card that allows you entrance onto the plane. These states are numbered, but only matter in groups of thirty. The first group of 30 boards the plane, irrespective of the individual numbers within the first group. The next 30 board, then the next 30, and so on, until the plane is full.

2) At some point, boarding passes fall in line with the rest of the airline industry-- disposable paper ones printed prior to the flight and worthless after you are on board. Also, groups expand to 45 and check-in can occur online up to 24 hours before scheduled departure.

Note that last change shifts competition from "who can show up earliest at the airport" to "who is most vigilant in remembering where they are exactly 24 hours before they leave."

3) Southwest now numbers every single boarding pass and you board strictly by your number; whereas before your 30 was equal to their 10, now you are getting on 20 spots later.

(As an aside, I noticed that handicapped/disabled/those that need extra time folks went first, then the first sixty passengers via the boarding pass number system, then those with babies, then the rest of the folks. Still not incentive compatible in my book, but my thoughts priority boarding privileges are here. And as an aside to the families-with-babies-board-in-the-middle realization, is Southwest inching towards becoming the first children-free airline? This bears watching.)

What is driving this change in boarding procedure-- that is, do you think it's more driven to suit customer demands or to reduce airline costs (i.e. board faster, turn the plane faster, etc.)?

While prices on plane flights vary over time, I am slightly surprised that prices for different seats within a plane at the same time do not vary (beyond first class, anyway). I'd pay more to sit in the front and away from the center seat. Has any airline ever done this? I've got to believe this has happened somewhere at some time.

- I had a dream recently where I was taking a class offered by Rachael Ray-- normal classroom offering and subject, only she was the instructor. I evidently attended the class very infrequently, and upon her confronting me, I then asked if she thought it was costly that I was missing class. She replied in extensive fashion that it was, to which I replied that her opportunity cost analysis was misguided. I'm really proud of myself for coming up with that! (I sleep with the TV on; I'm guessing that's where she came from.)

- Here's a bit on ESPN about pitch counts for starting pitchers in major league baseball, and here's a bit about a pair of studies that looked at the impact of youngsters throwing fastballs vs. curveballs. In short, I think certain pitchers can throw a lot and certain pitchers can't. In the past, at lower levels, if pitch counts were never an issue, then the low-volume throwers would get weeded from the game while the high volume pitchers would survive. You then make it to the professional level, and there aren't pitch count issues. However, with a range of theories and practices on the effects of throwing a high number of pitches, the weeding process is disturbed, and the uncertainty in drafting pitchers is a lot higher. Mix that with wanting to maximize the Type II error-- underutilize the pitcher when he could handle a heavier load rather than overusing someone who can't handle it-- and we've got dwindling pitch counts.

I can believe the curveball study in the sense that throwing any pitch is stressful on the elbow, and a curveball is generally thrown with less velocity than a fastball. It is also worth noting that if curveballs are so damaging, why do we never attibute arm injuries in professional pitchers to throwing curveballs? If the answer is that pros know how to throw them properly, then presumably amateurs are throwing pitches incorrectly, which leads up back to the first sentence-- throwing a fastball incorrectly will stress the arm more due to increased extertion.

I also vow to utilize the +/- feature-- I've timidly avoided it thus far.


Ellis said...

Hey Matt,

How are you?

Concerning point #3, airlines do charge different prices for different seats within the same section. I have never flown SW, but when you check in, they give you the option to change seats. Some seats are free to change to, others cost between $10 & $15.

Also, it is not clear (to me) how value is determined. I have been offered a middle seat for $15 more instead of an aisle or window seat. Neither of these seats were exit row ones. I thought the latter two strictly dominated the former, but I guess I am wrong. Someone said that sometimes apparently similar seats have different leg room. I imagine those that fly a ton (like weekly or bi-weekly) would know.

Matt E. Ryan said...

Things are going well, Ellis! Finally settling in up here in Pittsburgh.

My take on the same-price-for-all-seats-in-the-same-class idea is that if you were to buy a seat on any airline right now-- as far as I know-- you'd pay the same for every seat within the same class. Clearly, the market is segmented between first class and coach-- and even further so on longer haul flights. Maybe there's no need to break down the prices past this level, but they already choose to change them as days elapse...why stop there?

I haven't heard about paying to change seats on the day of the flight; I've had my seat changed to sit next to others upon request without being charged, though it wouldn't surprise me if there were a charge for that in some scenarios.

Ellis said...

Over the last couple of years (I forget which airlines, not SW, but probably Delta or Continental or maybe United), when I check in at the electronic booth, they show me my seat and then ask me if I want to change seats. I always look for fun, and there is a diagram of the plane with seats that are free to change to and then others that you have to pay for. I have never had time to study the diagram closely to see why some seats might be more or less expensive (since I am in a hurry or someone behind me is waiting). But, at first glance I did not see a pattern that fits my utility function.

Matt E. Ryan said...

That is interesting...

I know someone flying on United on Monday, I'll have them take a look and see what the deal is.

Ellis said...

I think United does it. It could be Delta or Continental.