Sunday, June 8, 1997
Delta sends notice it has
money to burn

The Cincinnati Enquirer

When I get something in a Federal Express envelope, I know that whatever is inside is just too important and urgent to trust to the U.S. mail. It's too complicated and colorful for the fax machine.

Either that or the sender has money to burn.

And I was right.

"How would you like to sit on top of the world?" teases the outside of a prosperous red-and-blue invitation. Well, who wouldn't? It beats sitting in a cubicle with Dilbert. Or sitting at Broadway Commons, waiting for a baseball game.

Unless they mean, you know, the real top of the world, the North Pole or something. And if they promise that I can go to the top of the world without signing up for a new telephone service or subscribing to a CD club. Or listening to a time-share proposal.

But I could tell from the bright colors and slick paper that this was something more festive than a trip to a cold, but educational, place. And the choice of delivery surely meant something more than an advertisement for a new way to mire myself in debt.

And I was right.

When I opened it, there was a blue pop-up, just like you'd find in an Advent calendar. Except instead of something Christmasy, the cardboard pop-up was an airline seat, complete with a simulated leather footrest. It was, if memory serves from my last flight, nearly life size.

"Your seat is waiting." Oooh, goody. I think this sounds like it has some potential.

A sense of humor

The windup, then the pitch: "Join us 30 feet above 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. Experience the first-ever Delta Air Lines Enhanced Business Class Living Billboard. Demonstrations. Information. Extra peanuts." I am glad to see that the company has a sense of humor about its crummy peanuts. Ha. Ha. Ha.

As you know, it is a civic faux pas - the rough equivalent of thinking that Marge Schott has a right to an opinion about where her team will play baseball - to notice anything imperfect about Delta Air Lines. The company plows millions into the economy around here.

And every time I try to book a flight out of Cincinnati on Delta, I am reminded that Delta makes us pay dearly for the privilege of hosting their hub. A couple of weeks ago, I checked on a round-trip ticket to St. Louis. Cost of flying out of Indianapolis was $130, round trip. If I left from Cincinnati, the fare was nearly $600.

When I received the exciting offer from Delta to become part of the commercial landscape, it was already Friday with the event on the following week. So, I was spared the excruciating telephone game of trying to find the cheapest fare only to discover that you have to order your tickets 21 days in advance during a full moon.

It was straightforward. I could fly Delta out of Cincinnati on Monday morning and return the same day for $834. Or I could fly out of Columbus for $460. Most every flight out of Columbus, whether it's Delta or another carrier, is cheaper. A researcher in the marketing department there says it's because there's no dominant carrier there. Everybody competes.

In Cincinnati, Delta and its partner Comair own 90 percent of the market. BUZZ SAWS AND GOUGING

"Trying to compete in someone else's hub is like walking into a buzz saw," Vivian Lee, an analyst with BT Securities Inc., said after U.S. Air announced it was bailing out of the Cincinnati market.

So nobody does.

But enough talk of buzz saws and gouging. This is about fun. This is about me perching 30 feet above Times Square in a replica of an airplane fuselage to help Delta Air Lines sell tickets to Europe. This is a chance to be seen eating peanuts by 1.5 million people passing through the Port Authority across the street.

This is the most outrageous thing I ever heard of, I thought, hatched by somebody who thinks that people here are so stupid that we'll fly to New York to get a free bag of peanuts. On a flight that costs twice as much as it should.

And I was right.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio, and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.