Friday, August 03, 2007

Price Gouging

Price Gouging can refer either to prices obtained by practices inconsistent with a competitive free market, or to windfall profits. We heard threats of this but not necessarily much action in this regard (despite record profits in the oil and gas biz, despite the rising cost of oil). I have, however, found a postcard example of price gouging: the rental car industry.

If for some reason you opt not to purchase the tank-fill option, and return your rental car with less than a full tank of gas, you can be charged from $7 to $8 a gallon for the rental car agency to fill it for you (despite the price at the pump being $3 at the time of my experience). That is more than 250% above market price. Granted, I filled my tank before returning my rental, but have some difficulty in perceiving this pricing strategy as anywhere near fitting within the parameters of "legal". Just curious if any one else has observed such obscene pricing strategies.

Oh, Those Poor Northwest Pilots....

In July, as in June, at the end of the month, hundreds of flights were canceled because, according to Northwest's pilots, there were not enough pilots to fly the planned routes for the airlines. This, apparently, resulting from recent layoffs and furloughs of said pilots. So, nearing the end of the two recent months, in a non-strike strike move, the remaining pilots called in "sick" and were unable to fly the remaining flights (for which thousands of tickets had been sold, undoubtedly).

Yes, there's a labor contract at play here. Of course, nothing says 'market manipulation' like a union deal. The irony is, the Pilots ratified the contract last year that they're - ahem - calling in sick about, conveniently, at the end of the month for, this year.

Northwest ended a 20-month bankruptcy in May, and used its Chapter 11 reorganization to cut labor costs by $1.4 billion annually. In May 2006, the nearly 5,000 pilots ratified a contract that saved the airline $358 million a year and averted a possible strike. That contract cut the pilots' pay by 23.9 percent, but raised from 80 to 90 the maximum number of hours per month that pilots could be required to fly. (The FAA allows them to fly up to 100 hours a month, any flying that exceeds the maximum is "voluntary", yet is paid at a 150% rate).

So, when pilots are hitting their 90-hour mark, they're calling in sick.

Boo - Friggin - Hoo. 90 Hours? In 3 weeks??? Some people work that in a week and are glad that they've been able to get work done in a week under the triple-digit mark. In a Week! These pilots are relatedly working part-time - the equivalent of 30 hours a week. How can they afford to do that?

Looks like I need to take flying lessons. No wonder they're called NorthWORST. They've earned it!


So, the news reported recently about cigarette lighters being allowed through security scans now by the NSA. It appears that no one bothered to tell the NSA this. On a recent flight, I felt sorry for the folks forced to fish out their lighters from their carry-ons that had gone through the security screening machines at the security checkpoints in the various airports I traveled through.

Speaking of broken communications, it seems that the NSA can’t effectively work within its network from one airport to another. We’ve heard the gripes about liquids and gels, and are pretty much aware that “Travelers may now carry through security checkpoints travel-size toiletries (3 ounces or less) that fit comfortably in ONE, QUART-SIZE, clear plastic, zip-top bag.” (

But some airports are more militaristic than others in what they define as “toiletries”.

One definition outlines toiletries as “Any article or preparation used in cleaning or grooming oneself, as soap or deodorant”;

…another as ” An article, such as toothpaste or a hairbrush, used in personal grooming or dressing.”

But in airports, the TSA apparently overrides Random House or the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, and each location seems to determine for itself what a toiletry is. Thank god neither of them opt to classify a hairbrush as one, as the American Heritage Dictionary does.

The objective in starting up this panic movement was concern that explosive gels or liquids could be carried upon a plane, and then ignited. Despite the news programs announcing lighters being re-approved, the TSA does not allow them on planes. Despite the safety precaution of tiny packaging and clear-bagging and scanning of any carry-on gels or liquids, as intended initially, here are some examples of what the TSA are requiring in some airports to be bagged in those zip-locks (and god help you if the bottle itself is bigger than 3 ounces, even if the remaining amount of liquid – like, say, a perfume – is only perhaps 20 drops):

  • Lipstick (I think of this as more of a creme than a gel or a liquid, but what do I know. I’m a girl.
  • Deodorant. Unless it says “gel” or “liquid”, I’m guessing it’s not a gel or a liquid (eww, anyway) and do not bag it as such.
  • Gum. yes, chewing gum.
  • Hairspray.
  • Medication. Again, unless it says ‘gelcaps’ or comes as a syrup, I’m not going to think of medication as a gel or liquid.

Here’s another fun fact: a one-quart-size bag. I saw people’s belongings thrown away because they were in a non-clear, store type plastic bag, not of the clear, zip-lock top kind. Now really. How much safer are you going to feel knowing that the evil Kroger plastic bag is not in your neighbor’s carry-on baggage?

One tip: If you happen to have small sized toiletries from any other country, they are likely in metric, so go ahead and make a TSA agent's day by bringing in a 50ml tube of sun screen!!