ivman's blague rotating header image loading ... please wait....

If Airlines Sold Paint…

picture of paint cans

Last week in a post called The Rules of the Air I listed some laws of air travel, both written and unwritten. Yesterday we drove our daughter Megan and grandson Drew to Atlanta for their flight home. It was bizarre to receive a call from Megan letting us know they were safely back in Detroit while we were still driving back to Greenville!

One of the biggest mysteries of air travel is the pricing of tickets. I have heard that the passengers on any one flight would be shocked to learn what the other passengers had paid to occupy seats in the same section. Thinking about this, I remembered something I sent out by e-mail a number of years ago.

Buying paint from a hardware store...

Customer: Hi! How much is your paint?

Clerk: We have regular quality for $12 a gallon and premium for $18. How many gallons would you like?

Customer: Five gallons of regular quality, please.

Clerk: Great. That will be $60 plus tax.

From an airline...

Customer: Hi! How much is your paint?

Clerk: Well, sir, that all depends.

Customer: Depends on what?

Clerk: Actually, a lot of things.

Customer: How about giving me an average price?

Clerk: Wow, that's too hard a question. The lowest price is $9 a gallon, and we have 150 different prices up to $200 a gallon.

Customer: What's the difference in the paint?

Clerk: Oh, there isn't any difference; it's all the same paint.

Customer: Well, then, I'd like some of that $9 paint.

Clerk: Well, first I need to ask you a few questions. When do you intend to use it?

Customer: I want to paint tomorrow, on my day off.

Clerk: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is $200 paint.

Customer: What? When would I have to paint in order to get $9 version?

Clerk: That would be in three weeks, but you will also have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday.

Customer: You've got to be kidding!

Clerk: Sir, we don't kid around here. Of course, I'll have to check to see if we have any of that paint available before I can sell it to you.

Customer: What do you mean, check to see if you can sell it to me? You have shelves full of that stuff; I can see it right there.

Clerk: Just because you can see it doesn't mean that we have it. It may be the same paint, but we sell only a certain number of gallons on any given weekend. Oh, and by the way, the price just went up to $12.

Customer: You mean the price went up while we were talking?

Clerk: Yes, sir, you see, we change prices and rules thousands of times a day, and since you haven't actually walked out of the store with your paint yet, we just decided to change. Unless you want the same thing to happen again, I would suggest you get on with your purchase. How many gallons do you want?

Customer: I don't know exactly. Maybe five gallons. Maybe I should buy six gallons just to make sure I have enough.

Clerk: Oh no, sir, you can't do that. If you buy the paint and then don't use it, you will be liable for penalties and possible confiscation of the paint you already have.

Customer: What?

Clerk: That's right. We can sell you enough paint to do your kitchen, bathroom, hall, and north bedroom, but if you stop painting before you do the other bedroom, you will be in violation of our tariffs.

Customer: But what does it matter to you whether I use all of the paint? I already paid you for it!

Clerk: Sir, there's no point in getting upset; that's just the way it is. We make plans based upon the idea that you will use all the paint, and when you don't, it just causes us all sorts of problems.

Customer: This is crazy! I suppose something terrible will happen if I don't keep painting until Saturday night?

Clerk: Yes, sir, it will.

Customer: Well, that does it! I am going somewhere else to buy paint!

Clerk: That won't do you any good, sir. We all have the same rules. Thanks for flying – I mean painting – with our airline!

Printed with permission. ©Alan H. Hess, 1998. All rights reserved.


Have you ever compared prices with other passengers or found out what someone else paid to take the same flight with you? I'm sure learning something like that could be a cause for either gloating or pouting.


"A powerful person's whole being rests on air, and God is in charge of the airflow." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Heard on an airplane, "Thank you for flying Delta Business Express. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride."

Print This Post Print This Post

If you enjoyed this post, to get updates when I post to my blog, sign up for your preferred method below — RSS, Twitter, or e-mail.

12 Comments on “If Airlines Sold Paint…”

  1. #1 David McGuire
    on Apr 20th, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    This reminds me of a trip that my son Dan took back in the mid-1990s. He was flying from Minneapolis to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Believe it or not, rather than flying direct from Minneapolis to Grand Rapids, it was cheaper for him to fly from Minneapolis to Cleveland to Detroit and then to Grand Rapids. Go figure!

    I realize that there is the need to fill empty seats on certain flights, and with online travel websites, you can sometimes get a great deal. But it does take persistence, and it can be very frustrating when a price changes five minutes since you last checked it. But the point of your post is well taken.

  2. #2 Jim Peet
    on Apr 21st, 2009 at 9:51 am

    The rationale for airline seat pricing is a similar to “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-16), “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?” (vs 13).

    The difference between paint and an airline seat is that at the end of the day (after the plane has flown) that seat opportunity is gone. At the end of the day at the hardware store, the unsold paint is there for another day.

    Each buyer must decide what is the fair and reasonable price for himself. Here are some recent examples of my flying:

    1. My brother in law dies in Oregon. His funeral is set for a certain day. I must be there that day. I buy on short notice.
    2. I take a vacation on the East coast. I’ve booked the location months in advance, but now I have months to price shop for the right flight at the right price
    3. My company has a meeting I need to attend in Phoenix. I don’t even pay for this ticket. I book it through the corporate travel site (and they worry about what is the fair price.

    How the parable of the workers and the airline passenger are alike: 1.) In both cases the opportunity ends at the end of the day. I can never work yesterday and I can never fly yesterday; 2.) In both cases there was a contract where two parties agreed in advance. In the parable of the workers, each laborer agreed with the “denarius”; 3.) If the parties did not discuss their side of the contract, they would have nothing to complain about. In the case of flying, if I didn’t know that the guy next to me paid 2/3 of what I paid, I wouldn’t be bothered by how much I paid (because I willfully entered into a contract thinking that was a fair price).

    (I don’t work for the airlines … but I have a degree in economics!)

    About Dave’s comment above – “rather than flying direct from Minneapolis to Grand Rapids, it was cheaper for him to fly from Minneapolis to Cleveland to Detroit and then to Grand Rapids”: The indirect flight (multiple stops) is more time consuming and less convenient. So it makes logical sense.

    Consider the airline industry … look each up on the NY Stock exchange by symbol. I don’t think any are making profits these days and they haven’t since 9/11.

    Hope this helps

  3. #3 Anonymous
    on Apr 21st, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Jim, I understand the logic, but I thought this was suppose to all be tongue in cheek. I found the concept of trying to sell paint the way the airlines do seats to be hysterical!

  4. #4 Vikki
    on Apr 21st, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    This reminds me of the one I saw a while back on “If Microsoft built cars”. Things like:

    1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.

    2. Occasionally your car would just die on the motorway for no reason, You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all of the car windows, shut it off, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this, restart and drive on.

    3. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

    4. The airbag system would say “Are you sure?” before going off.

    5. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off.

  5. #5 Michael
    on Apr 21st, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    I tend to buy airline tickets way in advance because that’s normally when the prices are lowest and I want to make sure my travel plans are set. However, this past summer my wife and I bought tickets for Christmas travel when gas prices were really high. We were dismayed to see the prices drop over the next few months as gas prices dropped. We could have potentially gotten a similar flight for much less if we had actually procrastinated.

  6. #6 Rob
    on Apr 21st, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    @David – Your son’s trip sounds like something we would end up on. Besides it’s being a cheaper, flying in and out of Atlanta instead of Greenville meant a direct flight for our daughter and grandson. With all the paraphernalia a toddler needs, that was a far better option for them.

    @Jim – Thanks for the good points you made. I’m sure that it really does all make sense and that comparing the sale of paint and of airline tickets is really apples and oranges, but the humor in the irony was just too good! 🙂

    @Anonymous – Thanks for your insights. It’s all about balance, isn’t it?

    @Vikki – I remember that one. I’ll have to post it sometime. Thanks for reminding me of it, although I guess I reminded you of it. :-/

    @Michael – That’s a bummer. Sometimes an advance purchase is a huge savings, and sometimes it pays to procrastinate. I’ve heard of people getting great deals at the last minute since the airline didn’t want to fly with so many empty seats. Timing is everything, I guess.

  7. #7 David McGuire
    on Apr 21st, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    For those of us who use to fly out of Greenville/Spartanburg several decades ago, there was a “theological” aspect. Because it was so difficult to get a direct flight from GSP to anywhere except Charlotte or Atlanta, we used to say that when the Rapture took place, we would have to go by way of Charlotte or Atlanta.

    By the way, the cost of flying the few dozen miles up or down I-85 was often pretty expensive compared to the rest of one’s trip. My cheapest flight home, however, occurred my freshman year (Spring of 1968). Back then, there was something called military standby and student standby. You bought a ticket cheap and then hoped that there would be a seat on the plane. I got a ride from Greenville to Atlanta after commencement and checked out my flight to Detroit. I had my ticket and got home to Detroit late that afternoon—my total cost was $28! Great deal.

  8. #8 Rob
    on Apr 23rd, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    @David – I remember that theory from my student days, that at the Rapture we would go through either Atlanta or Charlotte. Although there are more direct flights to/from GSP these days, many still send us through either ATL or CLT. As we say in French, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la mĂŞme chose.” (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

  9. #9 Alan H. Hess
    on May 24th, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Greeting Rob,

    Thank you for your kind comments about my “Paint” satire. I’m sorry that I didn’t receive your letter regarding permission to use. Of course you have my permission to use the article, with attribution.

    Printed with permission. ©Alan H. Hess, 1998. All rights reserved.

    I wrote If Airlines Sold Paint in 1998, but not much has changed on this particular subject in the past eleven years.

    Best wishes,
    Alan Hess

  10. #10 Rob
    on May 24th, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    @Alan – Thank you so much for your kind permission. I have no idea where my e-mail went because it did not bounce. I hope you will visit my blog from time to time for some good laughs. Thank you for the laughs of your paint satire.

  11. #11 Ken Quick
    on Sep 29th, 2009 at 9:26 am

    A closer apples to apples comparison would be airline seats and produce. Both are perishables; the only difference is the speed at which they perish. Vegetables deteriorate over several days; seats perish when they close the cabin door.

    Grocery stores know about when their produce will not be saleable. Airlines know exactly when their empty seats become worthless.

    How about an anecdote about airline seats and produce?

  12. #12 Rob
    on Sep 29th, 2009 at 9:55 am

    @Ken – That’s an interesting concept. Maybe you could write anecdote. If it’s as humorous as the paint parody in this post, I could share it with my readers.