I have a secret (and I’m telling)

shutterstock_303105161
By | January 23rd, 2016

This week’s most popular story will probably come as no revelation: It was Heather Dratler’s tell-all about what experienced air travelers wish infrequent fliers knew.

Seems everyone wanted to chime in with their favorite tip for the occasional airline passenger. More on that in a minute.

If you love clickbait, you probably also noticed the ol’ “I’ve got a secret and I’m not telling” trick in Heather’s headline. And in this one.

I wrote both deliberately.

This idea, that in order to be an effective consumer you need some special knowledge, pushes people to a site. But it’s worth pondering for a moment. How does the insider-knowledge requirement affect consumers?

I’ve seen the rise of a whole class of blogs and specialty publications that promise to convey some “expert” knowledge to their readers, while at the same time selling them the credit card of the week or a self-published book. I see how they call those of us not in the know “gate lice” and “kettles.”

Forgive the eye roll, please.

To the average reader, it sure looks like a classic “win-win.” The bloggers get their traffic and money. You get to manipulate the system a little. No one gets hurt. Right?

Let’s think about this for a moment. Who really benefits? You get a little, the self-appointed experts get a little, but the company creating these layers upon layers of complexity — well, they get a lot.


Regina Litman’s comment about airport codes really got me to thinking. In order to know where your checked bag is going, you have to memorize a list of often nonsensical codes. How silly is that?

Related story:   A "unique and complicated" request for a refund

By the way, I love the abbreviation for Orlando, my home airport, which counterintuitively abbreviates MCO: Mickey’s Corporate Office. That’s funny, Noah Kimmel.

This happens across corporate America. Ever tried to apply for a mortgage? Buy a car? (Quick, what’s the difference between the sticker, invoice and MSRP?)

It shouldn’t be this way. We ought to be able to buy a product with the confidence that no “expert” knowledge is necessary. We shouldn’t have to worry about overpaying for an inferior product just because we didn’t subscribe to the right blog.

And that, my friends, is why we’re here. Where everyone else wants to make the purchasing process more complex, we struggle to simplify it. Airlines have figured out how to make more money by “unbundling” their fares, marking up the extras we need like seat assignments and checked baggage, and reselling them to us at an excess profit.

And of course, the only passengers spared these indignities are the “experts” who figured out a way around the upcharges by signing up for a loyalty card or using their insider knowledge to avoid paying the fees.

I really liked Heather’s story, but the discussion that followed it was an eye-opener. It lifted the lid on an entire class of passengers who use their “secret” knowledge to navigate a customer-hostile system. I admire them, but I blame the airlines for making the flying process needlessly complicated. The only reason for all the fare classes and loyalty programs that demand a lemming-like obedience from their members is to enhance shareholder value.



  • Jeff W.

    Airport codes have meaning, some of which is lost over time.

    Chris, you should know that MCO stands for McCoy Air Force Base, which is the old base and airstrip from which the current airport was built upon. The ORL code is used for the little Orlando executive airport outside of downtown.

    Most people know that ORD is O’Hare. That is because it used to be Orchard airport. You can’t name it CHI, as there are two (used to be three) airports in Chicago. I am sure CHI is an airport somewhere in the world.

    There are only so many three letter combinations that can be had. So some airports have codes that don’t make sense because of history or nothing close is available. In Canada, I think all the airport codes start with “Y” Toronto is YYZ. Vancouver is YVR. Pretty hard to change them. Just ask the fine folks in Sioux City, IA, with the airport code of SUX. But they have turned lemons into lemonade with that one recently.

    It is logical to the consumer.? Perhaps not. But it is logical to the baggage handler in Los Angeles making sure your luggage goes to the right airport. Easier to read a three letter code than some poorly written long word, A code is easier to decipher than the written form. It reduces mistakes from the workers doing their job every day.

    Automation has certainly changed some things, but until you can get every country in the world to change this, three letter codes will likely stay.

  • pauletteb

    Unless you’re on a world tour using multiple airports, how difficult is it to memorize a couple airport codes? If your memory’s shot, write them down and keep them with your travel documents. There are myriad legitimate travel-industry complaints; this isn’t one of them.

  • Agree. All we really need to know is our home, destination, and any stops in between. Everything else is “that’s not mine”.

  • ctporter

    I find it slightly ironic considering all the pitches Ive seen to purchase a book called how to be the world’s smartest traveller.

  • FQTVLR

    I find the discussion of airport codes to be comical. On all my itineraries and e-tickets both the departure city and the arrival city are named–both by actual name and by airport code. if I am connecting that is on there as well. No need to learn the city codes. Simply consult the information you should have either on your smart phone or other such device or printed out. No need to commit the codes to memory–just consult your paperwork. And always remember to laugh at some codes. My favorites—FAT, for Fresno Air Terminal and SUX for Sioux City Iowa.