I provided an answer to this question, in which I pointed out that the "profit per customer" can be defined two different ways, and considering that the question is given the context of how they can make profit in selling longer flights for cheaper.

Considering that another answer already addressed the source of the $10 per customer number, it seemed reasonable to address the rest of the question, as that was the crux of what was being asked.

In doing so, I provided conceptual values for demonstrative purposes, in order to assist the reader in understanding the answer.

Sklivvz (I assume) first flagged the answer as requiring references, with no comment as to which part of the question he felt needed references. This was despite the answer not being about specific values, but rather, elementary mathematics and arguments about money that are so simple that it's not even reasonable to provide a reference (it would be like providing a reference for "blue light is a kind of light").

But I still capitulated as much as was reasonable, and provided some extra information about the economic terms to which I was referring through a reference. This was the only substantive claim - the only other claim was provided explicitly as an example, with phrases such as "in this situation" (referring to the hypothetical I was using for demonstration purposes). The true values are not going to be publicly available, for obvious reasons.

Sklivvz then deleted the answer entirely for "not really answering the question at all", having not once actually attempted any kind of communication as to what I was addressing. As pointed out, my answer was very much addressing the question; it was simply doing so in the broader context...

Very much like Sklivvz's own answer to this question, in which no information about whether "harmonized water" could prevent sunburn was presented, but rather a commentary on why their research might be questionable. The answer in no way addressed whether harmonized water existed, or if it existed, whether it had any impact on sunburn. Instead, it addressed the question of whether there are specific reasons not to trust the authors, which is an unstated, but relevant part of the question.

Now, if Sklivvz's concern was that the answer used hypothetical numbers, and thought that it should be interpreted as claimed real numbers... then actually saying so would allow me to find an alternative way to explain the concept. On the other hand, if it was some other concern, then I could have addressed that.

Instead, Sklivvz just heavy-handedly deleted the answer even despite a clear attempt to improve it by providing a reference.

Is this reasonable?

3 Answers 3


Your answer starts with:

It all depends on how you measure "profit per customer".

and then proceeds to explain the difference between "calculating it based on total profit vs total passengers" and "Unit Contribution Margin", which is also linked to its Wikipedia definition.

  • Nowhere in your answer you touch specifically on the subject of US Airlines profits per passenger, beside simply accepting at face value that a $10 figure by another answer is correct.

  • There is no reference I can find in your answer, and you specifically said that your answer needs no further references. Here's what our guidelines say on the matter:

    if the author explicitly declines to add references before then [a week], that the moderator feels is necessary, then the moderator may add a comment and delete the post.

  • There are plenty of other unreferenced claims in your answer, for example: "most expenses are independent of the number of passengers", "they likely make somewhere in the vicinity of half of their ticket price in profit", etc. etc.

When you commented on your answer, besides the canonical opening of "did you actually read the answer?" you also said

The claim, which doesn't even require a reference because it's basic high school mathematics, is that the profit made on each ticket sale is not total profit divided by total tickets

Besides the fact that your choice of using high school math level formulas is, in itself, a claim that needs to be referenced, the point you are making is irrelevant to the question. The question is about a number, not about a way of calculating it.

Your question is a digression on how the number should be calculated based on a definition, thus, not an answer.

  • I'm sorry, but this is complete nonsense. But at least now you've actually identified something that might make use of a reference, so I know what to address. You can't demand references without identifying what needs references, and then delete within 10 minutes of an edit that adds a reference. More importantly, you can't justify deleting for "not answering" when the question isn't just "is total profit per customer $10", but "How can that be true if they still make profit when offering cheaper fares?"
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 5:11
  • And I didn't say that it was a high school maths level formula, I said it was basic high school maths itself. But even then, I edited in a reference for the formula - Unit Contribution Margin is the economics term for the concept, and the link I provided gives the relevant formula.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 5:12
  • I provided the critical information. I even provided a reference for that information - the unit contribution margin is literally profit per ticket. If an airline sells another 100 tickets, they will make 100 x UCM in additional profit.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 5:14
  • All of the other parts of the answer are providing plausible values or ballpark figures for the purposes of description, which is the only option because it isn't going to be possible to get the real information, since it's confidential company data. The salient information is that they make more than $10 in profit from the sale of a ticket, as described by the UCM, and that we can conclude, from the fact that they sell discounted fares and that multi-leg trips are sometimes cheaper than their parts, that they make a significant profit per ticket in terms of UCM.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 5:26
  • If any part of that was unclear in the answer, you could have easily gotten it clarified by actually commenting with your concerns, rather than (ab)using your mod powers.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 5:27
  • I have now edited in further clarifications and details to make it much clearer what the point of my answer is, and how it is relevant to the question. I ask that another moderator examines it.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 5:37
  • @GlenO I've contacted the other mods so they can review your answer. Can I ask you to keep the tone of your communication under control? I've entertained your legitimate questions, but that doesn't mean I should tolerate random accusations and aggression in the meanwhile. Please, be more civil in the future.
    – Sklivvz
    Apr 15, 2017 at 11:42

This question has quickly spiralled into discussions of tone, how people reacted, how other questions were answers, etc., which I want to avoid if I can, and come back to basics.

The question is not "How can that be true if they still make profit when offering cheaper fares?" The in-scope questions here are practically always the same: Is this notable claim true?

The claim in this case is from Time.com, and is "the industry's average profit is just $8.27 for each passenger that boards a flight." (The OP has loosened this to $10, and provides justification for their skepticism, but this remains the question. If you don't think the original post is asking that question, we should edit the post to correct it.)

Your answer should then address that claim with empirical evidence. It currently gives a lecture on how hypothetical values affect the economic modelling of "Unit Contribution Margin". It might make a good answer on Economics.SE about "What is Unit Contribution Margin?" or "What might be a good way to decide how to price a perishable item with a given COGS?"

However, it doesn't answer the question.

(As always, saying 1+2=3 doesn't need a reference. Explaining the source of the original 1 and 2 from needs a reference. Explaining why addition is the right operation to apply here, and that it isn't an overly-simplistic model to fails to account for real world issues, needs a reference.)

  • While I understand that the question is rooted in the claim of Time.com, it is also noteworthy that the questioner expressed a number of points for why they felt that there was reason to doubt it. My answer explains why that doubt does not apply - the reasons for connecting flights being cheaper than flights to a location, and for ticket price increases not resulting in larger profit margins, lays in the distinction between net profit per passenger and the unit contribution margin.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 16:35
  • As I pointed out in this question, such answers are routinely considered acceptable on this site, and even provided by mods themselves, such as when Sklivvz provided such an answer regarding "harmonized water". And the last two questions were "Do airlines take losses on some flights and make up for it by turning a profit on other flights? Is there some other rising cost to account for?" - both of which require Unit Contribution Margin to answer.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 16:38
  • Note that I am currently making a further edit to make this clearer.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 16:43
  • And my issue with attitudes is that it seems as though the focus is on rapidly removing answers rather than communicating with users. As Sklivvz has pointed out, one of the guidelines says that, if an author explicitly declines to add references, the moderator can delete... but the thing is, I didn't refuse to add them. I added a reference in response to the flag, despite feeling that a reference would end up needing to turn my answer from a short and clear-enough answer to a lecture, as I would need to justify the reference. At no point did I say I wouldn't add references.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 16:55
  • All I would have needed is a comment saying "I am concerned about the lack of references for this, this, and this. Can you provide them?" The failing, here, is lack of communication, leading me to have to guess what the moderator's issue was - and that is VERY bad moderating (I have experience with moderating a forum, and failure to communicate is what leads to problems).
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 16:57
  • Incidentally, if you feel that I've written too much on Unit Contribution Margin, and should condense things down, I'm happy to do that. If I have some sense of what level of information is appropriate, I can provide it - I'm not a mindreader, though, I can't be expected to guess the right level of information after complaints about lack of information.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 16:59
  • I disagree that the OP's explanation for their skepticism justifies a non-answer. I disagree that Sklivvz's answer on a different question is equivalent, or justifies yours. I thank you for your advice on how to be a moderator. I don't think any of the UCM discussion is relevant; it can all be discarded.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Apr 15, 2017 at 17:39
  • I've made one last attempt at salvaging the answer - it has even more solid content, the UCM is scaled back to only what is necessary for the calculations that follow it (no explanations or hypotheticals), and the wording has been further refocused to make absolutely clear what it is answering. Please take one more look at it.
    – Glen O
    Apr 15, 2017 at 19:05
  • ....and, you (or another mod) changed the flag without telling me what the problem part is. "original data analysis or non-verifiable data" - really? I've provided extensive references for all data, and it's no more "original data analysis" than the top, accepted answer. Unless you believe basic algebra constitutes "data analysis", that is. And I even made clear that the "analysis" was to demonstrate a ballpark sense - it's for the benefit of the reader, not the claim.
    – Glen O
    Apr 17, 2017 at 3:32
  • There - I've gutted the answer of actual value (I don't mean "values") in order to be in line with "answering the question". by your reasoning. As it is now written, there can literally be no doubt that it's answering the question, as I've now noticed that the question body says "profit from each customer", not "profit per customer" - a subtle but key difference. And nothing even remotely resembling "original research", unless you count rearranging an equation.
    – Glen O
    Apr 17, 2017 at 5:05

I have undertaken repeated extensive rewrites of the question, each time in response to actual moderator criticism. At this point, the answer as it stands is quite confidently within the bounds of the question itself, irrespective of the interpretation of "what the question is actually asking", due to the specific wording of the question.

In particular, the question asks, within its body,

A quick google search returns several articles such as this one [referenced] claiming that airlines make less than $10 in profit from each customer

The wording, "profit from each customer", carries a different connotation to "profit per customer" as found in the question title.

This distinction, this connotation, is the root of the questioner's concern about whether the claimed number is correct. By only answering with the literal "total profit divided by total customers" evaluation, the question is being answered incompletely, thereby giving a false understanding of the situation.

Also notice that the questioner had asked, at the end of the question body,

Do airlines take losses on some flights and make up for it by turning a profit on other flights? Is there some other rising cost to account for?

These questions have since been removed by a moderator, explicitly in an attempt to make my answer invalid, as they are a fundamental part of the question being asked. The moderator's reason for the edit was literally "Removed speculation leading to answers that don't address the claim." - despite the fact that it does address the claim.

These questions further demonstrate that the raw claim of "airlines make $10 profit per customer" cause misunderstandings that are at the root of the question being asked.

This site stands opposed to misunderstandings such as this, and by allowing answers to stand that address only the literal "is this true" and not "is this fact being understood correctly", you end up only contributing to the problem.

To see what I mean, consider this answer I gave to another question. The literal question is "does this actually appear in the Talmud?", and if the answer were purely literal, it would be "Everything except that last sentence is in the Talmud, the last sentence is a fabrication"...

But it's not just about whether it's technically true - it's also about whether it's accurate in terms of context. If someone claims that the sky is blue, normally it would be fine. But if they said it during a sunset, they'd be wrong - the context matters.

And so, in that answer, which is both accepted and significantly upvoted, I pointed out that (aside from the fabricated ending) it's a literal interpretation where the literal interpretation is misleading. Without that part, the answer would also be misleading.

Indeed, it's standard practice to answer not just "is the literal claim true", but also "is the claim valid" (in the sense of whether, within context, it's a misleading claim couched in a factual statement). This can be seen, for example, here, where the moderator who originally took issue with my answer posted both a question and an answer. The notable claim was

The findings, to be published in the November edition of ‘Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin’, concluded that men find the propect [sic] of dating intelligent women intimidating.

This, as demonstrated in Sklivvz's answer, is a true statement. And it is - a study did indeed find that men find dating intelligent women to be intimidating.

By the reasoning applied by the moderators to my answer, this should be the end - a study found it.

However, Sklivvz's answer then went on to explain, without any references whatsoever (the only reference in the answer was to the paper), why the study itself shouldn't be considered reliable, with assertions such as that removing students who had figured out what was being tested was a "systematic bias".

More generally, it's not at all uncommon for "it depends on how you interpret the question" to be an answer. For example, Oddthinking's second-highest-voted answer is addressing the question of whether children were safer in the "good old days". His answer involved five different interpretations of the question, each of which produces a different result.

This isn't unusual - many notable assertions make use of plausible interpretation to be technically correct while also being misleading. Oddthinking's answer could have provided only interpretation 5, which would imply that children were noticeably less likely to be victims of child abuse in the past, and thus the claim is true by technicality.

But this is Skeptics. The whole idea is to cast doubt not just on the literal claim, but on its legitimacy as a claim.

In the case of my answer, I am pointing out that, although it's technically true that airlines make $10 per customer in profit, this is a misleading claim that causes confusion such as that shown by the questioner. While the literal claim had been addressed in another answer, I judged the literal claim to be misleading, and thus provided an answer that ensures that the claim isn't misunderstood the way that it was misunderstood by the questioner.

It appears that moderators are actively and spitefully trying to delegitimise my answer, going so far as to change the words of the questioner with the sole aim of justifying the deletion of my answer. Perhaps I'm mistaken, and they honestly believe my answer doesn't contribute - in which case, it would be helpful if they provided justification for why my answer isn't relevant (and not just asserting that they disagree with my arguments, without evidence), rather than just using their mod powers to actively try to stop me from providing it.

Given the above, I ask that my answer be undeleted, as it is relevant, it is backed up with references, it is entirely within the theme and point of the Skeptics site, it contains no "original research", and it is on-topic even after the removal of parts of the question.

One more demonstration of my point. Consider this question, about whether it's possible that a monk could go 9 days without food, water, or sleep. There are two answers. One answer talks about what Buddhists mean when they talk of fasting, etc, and never once comments on whether the referenced claim:

A Buddhist monk on Wednesday finished a grueling nine-day ritual of not eating, drinking, or sleeping as he chanted sutras 100,000 times. [...] He was the 13th monk to complete the test since the end of WWII.

is correct. The other answer addresses the plausibility of the claim, by using references to show that any one of the three, alone, is highly unlikely - going 9 days without food, or without water, or without sleep, is unlikely in the first place. Then it notes that the combination would make things even less likely.

By literal interpretation of the question, the second answer is the right one, while the first answer is off-topic for talking about the context of the question instead of the question itself.

One of the answers has been flagged while the other has received more upvotes.

The flagged one was the second one, accused of being "theoretical", despite it being the "literally" right answer. This is the normal logic behind acceptance of answers - the answer that addresses the claim in context is more valuable than the one that answers it literally. By the same argument given by Oddthinking, "what does it mean when a Buddhist claims to fast for 9 days?" belongs on the Buddhism stackexchange, and thus is off-topic here.

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