08/23/2009 08:07 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

American Econ 101: Saturday TV 'Bait & Switch', Continental Confusion & Bernie

Welcome back students!

As you know, this is back to school time across the nation and fresh young faces and minds will be crammed into lecture halls all across the USA's college campuses this week, many of them in that ever popular Econ 101. Well, kiddos, I've got a few object lessons in American economic theory for you. This is the kind of stuff that makes us who we are, these are the economic principals that have separated us from the rest of the world and made us what we are today!

Think about that for a second.

Our first lesson is the tried and true 'bait and switch.' I speak from recent and personal experience. Not only is this back to school week, but this time of year also heralds the beginning of football season. Professional football season. The NFL, America's game!! So needless to say my mailbox has been flooded by mailers from a certain satellite TV operation asking me to 'return' to them so I can sign up for the NFL package. In an effort to get me to bite they offered all sorts of 'free' stuff such as add ons. Channels and gizmos that I ordinarily wouldn't use, but hey, they're free and I want to watch football, so, yes, I bit.

I called, signed up, but being a devotee of American Econ 101, I kept my notes and made the phone rep repeat 3 times EXACTLY what I was getting for 'free.' After all, they were recording this call for quality assurance, right?

The weeks pass, my installation date comes, the equipment is installed,and voila, works like a charm. I'm all set for gridiron greatness, and oh, I say to myself, what the heck, let's watch one of those 31 premium channels I'm getting for five months for 'free.'

Oops, must be a mistake, no premium channels. No 35 regional sports channels. Aw shucks, I guess they just forgot. So I call, and guess what?!?!? No such package exists I"m told. 'You get nothing for 'free,' the young rep says. 'You must have heard it wrong. Sorry, but, if you'd like those premium channels we can SELL them to you for a mere $12.99 a month.'

And you thought that recent big wind was Hurricane Bill.

'Take the damn thing out!' I say. 'It's a matter of honor,' I claim. 'Oh you want to cancel?' the rep says.

'Yup. I'm done, finished, screw football and your satellite dish, take it all out.'

'Just a minute please while I connect you with that department.'

Guess what happened next?

'How can I help you, sir?' says a calming voice on the phone. I relate my story, and 'the voice' says, 'You're absolutely right sir. We do offer that package, we will give it to you, and I have no idea where the other young rep got that terrible idea. She'll be talked to and set straight, I promise!'

Gee, really? You mean it was her fault all along? She wasn't just following a script?

Just as sure as the Houston, Texans are going to win the Super Bowl, led by that up and coming quarterback Caveat Emptor. (He's from a small Eastern school, Swarthmore I think.)

Enter Continental Airlines.

Now this, young students, is very much a vision of the 'American Way.' Coming home from Sweden recently I was stuck in the Arlanda Airport for 16 hours. Seems the Continental plane that just came in had a hydraulic problem and couldn't leave. The part was in London, London is not close to Sweden. So why not just cancel the flight? Or, rebook all of us on other carriers? Or book us on the morning flight the next day? (Yes, there were seats, I checked.)

Well, cancellation is a non-starter for U.S. based carriers in the EU. Why? Because the EU has a pretty strict reimbursement law. If your flight is delayed longer that 5 and a half hours, or canceled, the airline owes you, the passenger, money. Actually allot of money. Money?!?!?!? Imagine a U.S. carrier giving inconvenienced passengers money? Real money. Not gonna happen! We Americans are smarter than those ole Europeans. We'll just 'delay' the flight -- for 14 hours!! The topper is the letter that came from Continental's 'Customer Care' division (who are they kidding?). It was thanking us for our patience (where we going to go?) and applauding their own efforts at customer comfort, giving us pillows, blankets and phone cards. (FYI -- we never got any of that.) Also in the note were vouchers for $175 for 'future travel.' Who are they kidding? I figure that comes to about $11 dollars an hour for our time. Maybe I should invest it.

Bernie? Is that you?