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Comment: Please be reasonable

Comment: Please be reasonable

Tuesday 22 October 2019

Comment: Please be reasonable


There is no price cap when it comes to plane tickets, but can an airline ever justify charging £1,000 for a ticket that is sometimes available for less than a taxi ride from East to West?

For Connect columnist and seasoned marketing speak 'detangler' Katherine Penhaligon, the answer is 'no', as she explains...

"There is a simple question which is begged by a return plane trip to Gatwick with a price tag of over £1,000.

Is that a reasonable cost, in all the circumstances? Is it ok for that journey to cost that amount at this time? They were the unanswered questions which hung over the story which appeared in the Jersey media in September.

Shock, and a bit of spluttering outrage, has undoubtedly been expressed volubly on social media already, with much accusation of airlines holding Islanders to ransom, with a good bit of anti-commercialism lobbed in for good measure. 

Jersey plane

Pictured: Is a £1,000 price tag for a return plane trip to Gatwick ever reasonable?

And, anti-commercialism aside, it is hard to disagree, especially when the answer proffered amounts to no more than explanation of a system which probably operates automatically, and lacks a human voice of reason to ask whether the reasonableness test has been applied and, even more importantly, satisfied. 

The spokeswoman’s statement, on this occasion from easyJet, was ‘our pricing is demand-led’ and that they ‘don’t artificially inflate their prices.’ The latter part being inserted to avoid the accusation that prices had gone up to take advantage of the fall-out from planned strikes by BA staff. 

Well, yes, both statements may well be true and the concept of demand is, mainly, well understood. It might not be universally popular but, yes, most people do understand that it is ‘demand’ that has dictated the sometimes 300% or more difference between the price of the seat they are sitting in – generally, for about 40 minutes – and that of their neighbour. 

writing_write_laptop_computer_online_type_typing.jpg

Pictured: The pricing system probably operates automatically, and" lacks a human voice of reason to ask whether the reasonableness test has been applied."

The trouble with this answer is that it is not even an attempt at a defence, it is simply a slightly deflated and exasperated explanation of what is already pretty obvious.

It’s a kind, scrubbed up version of “yeah, it’s all about the supply and demand, you see” and is also right up there with “it’s nothing personal.” With the best will in the world, you can almost hear the sighes and cries of “we’ve explained this to you a million times already” echoing off the PR team’s walls. 

In many ways, of course, there’s nothing wrong with the answer which was given. After all, and as that same PR team will no doubt have instructed through collectively gritted teeth, it answers the question and steers well clear of being in any way combative.

It also gives that little nod to the marketing and sales teams that there are many cheap seats to be had if you are lucky enough to be booking when demand is low. 

plane_seats.jpg

Pictured: "There are many cheap seats to be had if you are lucky enough to be booking when demand is low."

Unfortunately, the fact that there is a seat (just the seat, remember) available for less than a taxi ride to Gorey from Grosnez in mid-March isn’t going to be that much of a consolation to the person who needs a seat which commands a whopping £1,054 in September. 

The word ‘needs’ is also used advisedly here, too, because unless you absolutely need that seat or have a ‘whop-your-wad-on-the-counta’ approach to household financing, or a cavalier accounting department, you’re going to steer pretty clear of that in-demand seat.

It is an answer which completely misses the point, or wilfully avoids it because the answer isn’t one that someone wants to give – and certainly not a someone who has a name more personal than Ms Spokeswoman.

It is an answer which is a robotic as the process it is attempting to explain ‘one more goddam time’ to grumpy travellers. It is an explanation of pricing policy, and is more than one remove from being human or showing any input beyond number-grinding. No thought or control applied – on purpose.

 travelplaneholiday.jpg

Pictured: "Is the real answer that £1,000 is simply a number which is generated without any thought given to its value, beyond being a multiple of an original figure, and is pretty much arbitrary."

Perhaps it has been dehumanised to fit in with the general air travel experience these days, which seems specifically designed to be as soulless and unengaging as possible.

Humans are kept back and only thrown into the mix when the machines which now stand in for much-missed check-in people are being physically threatened with a double pram by a flushed father-of-four. 

Is the real answer that £1,000 is simply a number which is generated without any thought given to its value, beyond being a multiple of an original figure, and is pretty much arbitrary.

There’s no price cap, and the airlines would argue vehemently against such a thing; but in the absence of that, perhaps someone could just ask that simple question.

Is £1,054 reasonable for a return flight from Jersey to Gatwick?"

This article first appeared in Connect Magazine, which you can read it in full by clicking here. 

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