retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Go figure.

USA Today reports that Southwest Airlines increased its profits during the past year by not charging for checked baggage, at the same time that other airlines were hitting travelers with per-bag fees in order to generate much-needed cash.

According to the story, “Gary Kelly, Southwest's CEO, told reporters at the airline's annual shareholders meeting Wednesday that his carrier has gained about $1 billion in revenue by taking market share from its rivals - almost all of which charge from $15 to check one bag to as much as $100 or more for a third in some circumstances.” Southwest’s policy has been highly touted in a series of television commercials.

Now, that $1 billion figure is a little hard to prove, Kelly conceded, because of operational differences among the airlines. But, he said, “I'm simply saying that we reduced our capacity, and we're carrying more passengers, while our competitors are reducing capacity and carry less passengers."

Seems simple enough, and a lesson that more businesses should learn. The popular move is not always the right move, and will not always have the desired effect.

And remember. When Spirit Air announced that it would start charging for carry-on bags, a lot of people’s first reaction was that they could not wait to see how Southwest would respond. That’s what I call brand equity.

A big thanks to the folks at Graeter’s Ice Cream, who were kind enough to send the Content Guy a case of ice cream...which is some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Especially the Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip - which was almost too good for my own good. The bad news is that Grater’s is only available in 13 states, and Connecticut isn’t one of them...

I’m told, however, that Graeter’s is opening a new plant that will allow it to double and eventually quadruple capacity. So maybe there is long-term hope for those of us in outlying states.

If you’ve never had Graeter’s...try it. Thank me later.

Here’s my end-of-season TV report...

• “Fringe” ended its second season with a bang-up cliffhanger last night, proving itself a worthy heir to the “X-Files” tradition - spooky stories with a fascinating mythology linking them from week to week. It gets more compelling with every episode, with wonderful performances from Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and the terrific John Noble, not to mention a nice turn in the finale by guest star Leonard Nimoy.

• I have to admit to mixed emotions about the finale episodes of “Lost” and “24,” which will air on Sunday and Monday, respectively. “Lost” just gets more and more interesting, and there is part of me that wishes they’d take another year or two to tell all the stories that obviously are percolating there; “24,” on the other hand, seems done, going through the motions at the end of an exhausting series of days for its hero, Jack Bauer. But as these two shows end after long and distinguished runs, it is important to remember that they each reinvented the form to some degree...taking traditional television storytelling and knocking it on its ear. For that we should be grateful.

• My not-so-secret passion when it comes to television shows is for police procedurals of various kinds - which is why I enjoy shows like “The Mentalist” and “Criminal Minds” (which gets more depraved every week). But I’m not quite sure why I’ve stopped watching “CSI” on Thursday nights - maybe it is because I watch “Fringe” instead, or maybe it is because I miss William Petersen’s Gil Grissom. But somewhere along the line, “CSI” lost me.

• In some ways, the Jesse Stone series of television movies on CBS - which seem to run once a year, usually in May - are the very essence of traditional television storytelling. No special effects to speak of, a compelling central performance by Tom Selleck, scripts based on novels and characters created by the late Robert B. Parker, and nice character turns by a group of supporting actors. But they’ve always been something a little different - they look more like movies, and they have created an ongoing and evolving portrait not just of the protagonist, a small town police chief with a weakness for booze and his ex-wife (he says he is divorced “everywhere but in my mind”), but also of the small Massachusetts town of Paradise, which is anything but.

The sixth in the series, “No Remorse,” was on a couple of weeks ago, and much of the pleasure was in seeing references to previous stories - everything has a context. We know where the bullet hole in the Ozzie Smith photo came from. We understand Stone’s relationship with his dog, Reggie, and what happened to his old dog, Boomer. We’ve watched his various relationships unfold, slowly and deliberately, with novelistic pace and precision. And the really good news is that, while Parker is gone, a seventh movie, “Innocents Lost,” has been completed and an eighth one is being written. Good stuff.

I just finished “Game Change,” the book about the 2008 presidential campaign by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, and it is terrific - a worthy and well-written successor to the old “Making of a President” series by Theodore H. White. Not everybody will like it; people who were on the losing side of that race probably will find it to be hopelessly skewed. And, quite frankly, I found myself wondering how different the book would have been had John McCain been elected. But that said, it is a fascinating look at back room politics, and serves as an effective reminder that while campaigning is poetry, governance is prose....and not always very pretty prose.

My wines of the week:

• the 2008 Shiraz Viognier blend from The Chook, in Australia, which is wonderful with grilled and barbecued foods;

• the 2008 Woop Woop Cabernet Sauvignon, also from Australia, perfect with a nice thick steak;

• and the 2006 Piaggia “Il Sasso” Carmignano from Italy, which is great with spicy pastas and pizza.

To give credit where credit is due...

I should mention here that I got all these wines from my wine-of-the-month club, which is from Nicholas Roberts , a wonderful Connecticut wine store that has an innovative club and ships all over the country.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend...and I’ll see you Monday.

KC's View: