Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Jetstar Black Market

As I write this I am sitting on a Jetstar flight; the only airline to travel direct from our holiday destination to Melbourne. Suffice it to say, this is an incredibly awful flight. Even more so than the absolutely zero dollars in savings we got because we pretty much had no choice but to take it.

I'll start with the obvious, the lack of assigned seating. Now I can imagine a world in which no assigned seating might make sense. If there is a commuter flight with mostly lone travelers, they will get on the plane and sit in the nearest available seat. It probably means that you can load people on to a plane quicker.

But for a holiday destination with mostly families traveling, the whole thing is a disaster. There is no appreciable saving in time because the large chunks of families scramble to get seats close to their children. Now I had fantasised about not doing this, going to the back of the queue and being separated from our children for the whole flight; leaving them as some other sap's problem. Sadly, the issue is that in musical chairs I would likely end up sitting next to someone else's children and that was a lottery I was not willing to play.

Anyhow, we had a 'prized' orange pass which meant that we would be first to board -- being with kids got us that. It was clearly better than the blue pass or worse something called the silver pass (I do not know who you would have had to offend to get stuck with one of those). But, if you had noticed my earlier foreboding, the 'prized' orange pass was only prized in the sense that there were a couple of people with the other passes. Actually, from a scarcity (but no value) perspective, the other passes were rarer.

I was not really aware of this and we had positioned ourselves well to get on the flight at the top of the queue. Unfortunately, 15 minutes before boarding, due to one of our adult party being in the bathroom, I watched the 'tipping point' occur. It occurred to someone that they could just stand in line right then and they did. Within seconds, as if someone shouted 'fire' in a cinema (or shotgun in this case), there was a rush to the queues. I thought the worst would happen would be that we were at the back of the prized orange queue. In dismay I saw that the orange queue had half the fracking plane! Nonetheless, we stood in it.

15 minutes into standing in this queue, my 7 year old asked, "why are we just standing here?" I told her that it was because of the "tragedy of the queue." Everyone wanted to be in the front of the queue and so we all moved to get there. "But we aren't in the front of the queue?" she said, pointing out the obvious. Well we aren't quite at the back either, which we weren't. So we are standing here so we won't be at the back. "And what is the problem with being at the back?" Well, we won't get as much choice in seats and I argued that this was something we wanted.

[Now we had become savvy enough to realise one thing, there was another opportunity to jump the queue, as we walked across the tarmac to the plane. We weren't going to do this but we were going to maintain our relative position against the blue passers nipping at our heals and unencumbered by children. One got through but we broadly succeeded.]

On the plane, the true inefficiency of this emerged. People who boarded at the front were going back. People who boarded at the back were going forward. They collided. It was chaos. We staked out our row and wanted to maintain a spare seat. (There were 8 on the flight). Fortunately, the 2 year old put on a wonderful screaming performance and repelled all challengers.

Next came the food issue. I blogged on our experiences on the way here but that was on Qantas where we had stopped off in Brisbane. (So yes we had a choice which was to take some crazy stop-over route back to Melbourne. So there is only a Jetstar monopoly on direct flights.)

On Jetstar you buy food and that is what we intended to do. Big mistake. We were in the middle of the plane and by the time the food cart got to us, there was, no food. Certainly, no healthy food like sandwiches and meat pies. We got some potato chips. Now you might think it was some funny time flight that would have led to this situation. But no, it was the prime time 12 - 3pm run. Lunchtime. Hence, the high demand for food but that didn't explain the low supply. I secured chips and a lolly bag.

Then I had an idea. I would try and procure a sandwich from the row ahead. I said, "I'll give you $15 for your sandwich." The women I was negotiating with pondered this and then said "how about $30?" I said, "$20?" She said, "no deal." I said "Are you really going to eat a sandwich that is now worth $20 in cold hard cash?"

Actually, none of that happened but pondering the potential for a black market got me to open up my laptop and starting writing. I also wanted to remember to bring more contra onto the next Jetstar flight I had the misfortune to travel on. I think one could make a nice killing.

[Update: my sister-in-law adds her own miserable food experience to the plot. Click here.]