Saturday, June 13, 2015

Flying First Class

Traveling always gives me time to think, and I spent yesterday making my way to the West Coast, where my wife and I are spending some time in LA hanging out with my son and daughter, their partners, and my grandson (my in-laws are tending to the house and the dog, who cannot even successfully manage a car trip across town).

On one leg of the journey yesterday, we ended up sitting just behind the bulkhead that separated we Mere Mortals from the folks in First Class.

I've never traveled first class, in fact have never traveled sitting far enough forward to see the wonders that occur there.

I marveled at how those twenty-four travelers, of all of us cattle-jammed into the plane, had essentially their own personal staff of attendants to provide them with a steady stream of amenities, from taking their lunch orders to delivering via tongs some nicely warmed towels. One business traveler's seat would not recline, and after contortions worthy of Godzilla's chiropractor, the flight attendant promised a financial compensation for the travelers emotional pain and suffering from being forced to do without his six degrees of inclination.

I reflected that it made a certain amount of sense-- those folks had likely forked over (sans tongs) a ton of money to sit in airplane nirvana, and so had personally generated a great deal of the plane's profit (I'm pretty sure their extra charges more than covered the expense of the tongs). And to give full disclosure, I was only at the bulkhead where I could watch because I had sprung some extra money to pay for the extra luxury of sitting next to my wife on the trip (she is way better than a warm towelette). So I, too, was a traveler who had the financial means to make my travels a little better.

We all made the exact same trip to the same destination. And we all the opportunity, the access, to the seats in first class. The airline made that section available to everyone, but only some were willing and able to take advantage of it. Could they have provided tongs (and seats with enough space for grown humans) to everybody? Not really, because that wouldn't be economically viable. What works economically, business-model-wise, is to sort passengers out so that folks with more money get more service and folks without money just get where they're going in one (uncomfortable) piece. Occasionally folks are "upgraded" to first class, but that changes nothing about how the system fundamentally works. The airline still retains the ability to sort people based on how much profit those people deliver.

This is what treating education as a business promises us (it is, in fact, exactly what it has delivered to us on the college level) -- sorting out customers with levels of service provided to those customers based on how much revenue they can generate. People who are insisting that a charter-choice system would provide greater educational equality are just plain wrong. A free market charter-choice business-style approach to education gets us more inequality, with some folks up in first class and some folks stuck sitting in the back of the bus plane.

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