The $4k Flight Ticket to Escape Sandy’s Wrath

Leaving New York City yesterday bound for California on one of the last flights out of JFK before the airport closed, a flight attendant told me I was lucky to already have my ticket. In light of the pending hurricane, the airlines had just hours before jacked up ticket prices on the flight to $4,000 (I had paid a few hundred dollars when I bought it last week).

As a result of the last-minute rush for tickets, the flight was oversold by 47 passengers. So the flight attendants offered money to any passengers who volunteered to switch their tickets to the next flight out of NYC, whenever that might be. The first offer of $200 wasn’t enough to elicit 47 volunteers, nor were the subsequent ones of $300 and $350. An offer of $400 finally did the trick.

Assuming that the 47 extra passengers had each paid $4,000 to get onto the plane at the last minute, and the 47 who gave up their seats for them received $400 in return, the trade would have been “rational” in narrow market terms. After all, the seats were “worth” $4,000 to those who bought them at the last minute, and switching to the next flight (whenever that might be) was “worth” $400 to those who agreed to do so.

But the transaction was also deeply exploitative. The airline netted a huge profit because of the impending storm.

I couldn’t help think this was a miniature version of the America we’ll have if Mitt Romney is elected president. Rational and efficient in terms of supply and demand, guaranteed to maximize profits, but fundamentally unfair.

About Robert Reich 547 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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