I have a secret (and I’m telling)

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:   Travelocity promised me a refund -- did it do enough?

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.

What ever happened to creating a better product?

Related story:   Are the number of airline complaints about to take off?

So here’s my secret: I’m so on to them. They think they’re so clever, that by adding a new class of service (what, four classes isn’t enough for you?) or wrapping their avarice in industry lingo, it will somehow make it more palatable to consumers. Maybe because the so-called “experts” say it is so.

But you know better. Airport codes, codesharing, loyalty programs — it’s all meaningless. After you take off, it’s just a seat in the sky. The complexity rewards a few outside shills and a lot of shareholders, but in the end, we are all the suckers.

Wouldn’t it be a great to live in a world where you don’t have to be an expert to be an competent consumer? Where the price of your product is the price you actually paid — no tricks? And where it’s illegal to make deception your business model?

Businesses that make their transactions complicated ...

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

  • 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.


    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.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.