Are the British airlines run by incompetents or hypocrites? The AP reports on the air carriers’ “plan” for repatriating the many Brits still stranded on the Continent thanks to the shut-down of air traffic last week:

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic appealed for passengers booked on long-haul flights next week to consider giving up their seat to make way for travelers still stuck following flight disruptions.

There’s one simple way to induce people holding tickets to give them to people who’ve been stranded: Allow those tickets to be resold. Within minutes, ebay would be auctioning off hundreds or thousands of them, and everyone would be better off than they are now. If security concerns make this simple step inadvisable, the airlines themselves could simply offer to buy back outstanding tickets in order to resell them to people whose flights were cancelled out from under them.

Why do the airlines instead make vapid pleas for their customers to surrender valuable rights to strangers? I can think of two reasons, both venal. One possibility is that the airlines are avoiding the appearance of price gouging, since the buyback fare would be much higher than the price people originally paid for their tickets. Even though the plan would be revenue-neutral for the airlines, they might appear to be taking advantage of their customers. As for allowing individual customers to buy and sell existing tickets themselves, the airlines know that this practice undermines their ability to engage in price discrimination, and would cost them a great deal of revenue on new ticket sales during the period when resale was allowed.

The alternate explanation is unpleasant to contemplate, and that is that several major airlines are run by people who are too shortsighted to figure out how they could actually help their stranded customers.

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