Free enterprise..flight and airport

April 22, 2015

I was sitting in Detroit airport, waiting for my flight to St.Louis. I heard this announcement: “Due to overbooking, we are looking for volunteers who are willing to go to St.Louis tomorrow. We will give $600 Delta vouchers (one year validity) and hotel accommodation if you are from out of town.” A family was awaiting my arrival in St.Louis, so I thought about it.

While I was thinking, another announcement was made, and the voucher amount this time was $700. A few minutes later, it was upped to $800. At this point, I went up the counter. I made sure that there would be a free shuttle to and from the hotel, that I would not be charged for baggage for “breaking my journey”, and accepted. I was given a flight the next morning at 8.55 am. Meanwhile, another lady walked up to volunteer, and she said, “If you can get me in to St.Louis tonight, some time, I’ll take it.”

So there we were, looking forward to hotel accommodation, feeling wealthy with $800 worth of travel in our pockets….or so we thought. Suddenly, the group of 8 or 10 who wanted to travel together, decided they didn’t have enough tickets…and canceled!

So the Delta employee told us we could board the flight. We watched our $800 fly away just ahead of the aircraft.

When I got to St. Louis, I got my suitcases off the carousel, and was waiting for A to come and pick me up. Someone came along with flatbed trolley and asked if I needed help. I said my daughter was coming (I was still at the baggage carousel, one level down from the street.) The man said, “Ma’am, the baggage trolleys here are $5 each. Then your daughter has to spend $6 for parking, and then come and push the trolley back to her car.”

“So what would you charge me for your help?” I asked.

“We are not allowed to ask for money,”he said. “But Ma’am….you can give me whatever you think fit.” The exact equivalent of the railway porter at Central Station, Chennai, saying, “Ethaanum pOttu kudunga ma.”

“Would a total of $3 be OK for you?” I asked. “Also, I have to tell my daughter I will be at the street level passenger pick-up and not near the carousel.”

“That’s fine, ma’am,”he responded. “I’ll make the call to your daughter and tell her where you’ll be, she doesn’t have to go to the basement parking at all.” He suited his action to the word.

He easily pushed the flat-bed trolley up the ramp to the street-level and after putting the suitcases (and me) at the passenger pickup point, told me, “Don’t worry, your daughter is on her way and she’ll come here and pick you up. If you could release me now, I’ll go get a few other passengers.” Off he went with the dollar bills quickly disappearing into his pockets! Once again, he reminded me of the railway porter who sets down people’s luggage in the place of the platform where the coach is going to stop, pockets his fee, and goes off in pursuit of further income.

Free enterprise is alive and thriving, the world over! It may be a coolie asking, or it may be an airport employee coolly asking, that’s the only difference!