Recently, I needed to travel to London and so I began my preparations with a phone call to an airline that I hadn’t used before but that I was keen to try, given its appealing advertising.
“Good morning, this is Margaret and how can I help?”
“Good morning, Margaret, I’d like to book a ticket for a flight from Melbourne to London at the end of next month. My name is David.”
“Well, David, I can help, but before we talk about where you want to land, can I ask how much you want to pay?”
“Well, whatever it takes, I suppose. What’s your price?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that since that would be giving you advice. No, you must tell me how much you want to pay.”
“But you must give me some idea? What if I said $5,000; is that enough?”
“It might be, David, but we won’t know in advance.”
“Well what are other people paying? What would you pay if you were me?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you. You have to make that choice; I can’t make it for you.”
At this stage, I was starting to become just a little tense, but did my best to be civil with Margaret. After all, she was probably following a script.
“OK,” I sighed, “we’ll stick with the $5,000.”
“Fantastic,” she said “let’s pretend that $5,000 is enough and see what happens!”
“Margaret, what happens if $5,000 is not enough?”
“If your money runs out, we will ask you to get off. Don’t worry, the parachutes we hand out are excellent; reliable, well packed and yours to keep on landing. There is an increasing number of passengers being ejected these days, so you probably won’t be alone. And since we changed our flight paths, there is no chance of you being parachuted into Iraq any more. If you do fail to reach your objective, you will have to rely on a pair of roller skates and a dodgy plastic compass to get you home. Those items are provided by the Government, but only to those people who don’t already have a pair of roller skates and a dodgy plastic compass. They call it their ‘means test’.”
“And if $5,000 is more than enough?” I asked, looking forward to hearing a sensible answer for a change.
“In that case, we will send you a cheque for the balance, less a payment fee.”
“Will you pay interest?”
“Yes, but we don’t know how much. It could be positive or negative.”
I didn’t feel like entering into a discussion about interest and the theoretically interesting diversion about whether interest could be negative. In fact, I just wanted my tickets booked, paid for and the phone call to end. But Margaret wasn’t finished.
“Now,” she said with renewed brightness. “What type of aircraft would you like to fly in? We have a range of options for you to choose from, to allow you to tailor the flight to your personal situation.”
“Margaret, you tell me which one is appropriate, given where I’m going and how much I’m paying.”
“I’m so sorry David, but I’m not allowed to. That would be giving advice. But I can tell you that our different aircraft have different characteristics; some are slower and noisier but they are exceptionally reliable, in that they will get there, but we don’t know when they’ll get there! Others are quicker, but the navigation systems aren’t always able to deal with bad weather and so you may land in Iceland or Morocco for example. The really new versions are very exotic, fast and quiet but we’ve lost a few recently. The engines have this new device fitted called a collaterised double-quick orbiter (CDO) that can fail unexpectedly but the engineers don’t really know why. It seems some of the pilots weren’t even aware the CDOs were installed. Those pilots that knew the CDOs were fitted didn’t know how they worked and couldn’t turn them off. The really scary thing was that a pilot would report a problem with their CDO on the Los Angeles route and a plane sitting in the hangar at Tullamarine would suddenly collapse under its own weight. It’s called the sub-prime effect, I believe. The Government has since told us we should be ok from now on as we are too big to fail.”
I may have responded too harshly to Margaret at this stage. Still, she seemed to handle it adequately, and after a brief pause, she recovered herself and we pressed on.
“Margaret, I’ll have the plane that is your most popular one. Did you call it the Default Option?”
“Thank you David, I’ll put you in the Default option. Now, are you aware of the risk of a fuel surcharge being levied? If needed, we levy a surcharge because of the rising price of fuel. We’ll take it out of your $5,000, if needed.”
“Excuse me, does that mean I’m less likely to land in London?”
“Yes, that’s right. There is a full description of all the risks in our Plane Details Specification (or PDS for short). I will send you a copy of the PDS. If, after reading it you still have questions, you really should consult a licensed aeronautical advisor. But be careful, make sure your advisor is licensed by ASIC, the Aeronautical Surreptitious Investigations Commission.”
At this point, Margaret clearly felt the conversation wasn’t going as well as it should. She was only young and may have been put off by my surly manner coming over the line.
“Margaret, when I used to fly with one of your competitors, I said where I wanted to go and the airline told me how much to pay. It was easy.”
“I’m sorry, David. We have moved away from a Destination Bound (DB) system to a Destination Concealed (DC) system. They are quite different. Not many airlines offer the DB system anymore.”
I thanked Margaret, paid my $5,000 and crossed my fingers.