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📞 RIP, the $1.4B prison phone call industry

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The Hustle

Good morning, my pretties. The hourglass used by The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch to inform Dorothy of how much longer she has to live was sold at auction for $495k.

In today’s email:

  • Southwest Airlines: Chaos continues, but why?
  • Video: A best-selling holiday… plant.
  • Bad news for the $1.4B prison phone industry.
  • Around the web: A stock market simulator, northern lights jaw-droppers, three cats that don’t belong, and more cool internet finds.

🎧 On the go? Listen to today’s 10-minute podcast to hear Jacob and Juliet discuss Southwest’s no good, very bad week; changes to the prison phone industry, and Avatar’s box office take.

The big idea
Southwest Airlines plane

Southwest Airlines’ travel chaos, explained

We hope you’re reading this from where you expected to be this morning. If not, is it because Southwest Airlines stranded you?

As of Tuesday morning, the airline had canceled 5.4k+ domestic flights since Monday, with more cancellations to come, per NPR.

Its stock sank ~6% on Tuesday, while passengers turned to social media to gripe about missing luggage and missed plans.

What’s the deal?

In October 2021, Southwest canceled 2k+ flights over four days due to bad weather and staffing, resulting in a $75m loss. Then-CEO Gary Kelly said it’d made adjustments to prevent future chaos.

But while recent winter storms strained many airlines, Southwest accounted for ~2.9k of Monday’s 4k+ cancellations, compared to Delta’s 276.

Southwest also faced:

  • Big storms at its Chicago and Denver hubs, per CNN
  • Tighter schedules than other airlines, given its shorter flights
  • Staffing shortages, due in part to “tripledemic” illnesses and crew members hitting their federally mandated work limits
  • Outdated scheduling systems that crashed under pressure, leaving employees in chaos

What now?

For the next several days, Southwest will operate about one-third of its schedule. CEO Bob Jordan has also acknowledged that the airline needs to “modernize” its tech.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Transportation is investigating if Southwest’s recent cancellations were “controllable” (defined as within the airline’s control), and if it’s complying with its customer service plan (what it’s promised to do in the event of controllable cancellations and delays).

BTW: President Joe Biden has encouraged affected passengers to see if they’re eligible for compensation.

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eyeball wearing a hat

Aww: Parents Cassidy and Dylan Scott of Huntsville, Alabama, welcomed their daughter, Lennon, on Dec. 18. All three now share the same birthday, apparently a one in 133k chance.


Lemonflation: As covid cases spike in China, fruits rich in vitamin C are selling there for 2x-3x their usual prices.

A new study from a Stanford economist found learning losses among K-12 students during the pandemic could result in 5.6% lower lifetime earnings if not reversed.

That’s cool: An iPhone 14 was in a car that fell 300 feet into a canyon. It detected the crash and automatically contacted emergency services.

Bugatti’s last gas-only supercar will likely fetch millions at auction in February. The company’s next supercar will be a plug-in hybrid.

Chinese tech company Baidu will start offering driverless, nighttime taxi rides in Wuhan this week, expanding from daytime-only hours.

Good deal? German researchers successfully bid $68 on eBay for a used biometric scanner (listed for $150). They later learned it held the iris scans of 2.6k people, including known terrorists.

Box office: Ticket sales for Avatar: The Way of Water continued to stream in, with the sequel notching $955m in sales as of Monday. James Cameron has said it needs $2B to break even.

Manage prolific partnerships: We wrote this partnership operations report with Canalys and Partnership Leaders to help you manifest more win-wins.

Paid PTO: A looming labor shortage means forward-thinking companies will need to level up their PTO offerings to attract top talent.

poinsettia video

Video: How the lucrative poinsettia took over Christmas

Few things say “Christmas” more than the ubiquitous poinsettia. Every year, just after Thanksgiving, it emerges en masse at nurseries, big-box retailers, fundraisers, and holiday parties.

From storefronts to churches to Home Depot’s shelves, you’ve probably seen the plant so much over the holidays that you don’t even notice it.

  • US consumers bought $157m worth of poinsettias in 2020 alone. It’s one of the most popular plants in the world, with annual sales of ~90m units and a global retail impact of nearly $1B.

But behind the beautiful, blood-red bracts of the poinsettia, there’s a story rife with geopolitics, patent wars, a dethroned monopoly, and complex supply chains.

How did this Mexican shrub become America’s best-selling holiday plant?

Read the full story →
Free Resource

Do you have a five-year plan?

We’re asking… and sensing the answer’s no, or it’s a bit outdated.

It’s not about sticking to a stiff agenda, but setting goals for yourself and backfilling the details to get it done — or at least considering them. This simple five-year plan template helps you do that, with a short and long version included to suit your taste.

Fill-in-the-blank makes it a breeze. Take a few minutes to keep it real with yourself today, and end up with a lil road map for whenever you need it.

Easy five-year planning →
corded telephone

The $1.4B prison phone call industry gets an overhaul

Last week, Congress passed the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022.

The act, which now just needs President Biden’s signature, will allow the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the rates of prison phone calls.

Here’s why that’s a big deal

The prison phone call industry generates ~$1.4B each year.

The Prison Policy Initiative pins the average cost of a 15-minute phone call from jail at ~$3. That doesn’t include all the other fees associated with these calls, including setting up and adding funds to required prepaid accounts.

  • In 63% of cases, inmates’ family members shoulder these bills. Among them, 83% are women. According to the Ella Baker Center, over a third of paying families go into debt over the calls.

Historically, the FCC has limited the cost of cross-state phone calls to 21 cents per minute for prepaid calls. Problem is, 80% of these calls are made in-state. With the passing of this bill, the FCC will be able to cap in-state prices.

“Today… the FCC will be granted the authority to close this glaring, painful, and detrimental loophole in our phones rate rules for incarcerated people,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.

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🎥 On this day: In 1895, the Salon Indien at the Grand Cafe in Paris screened Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory — the first public projected film screening — for 33 guests.

🎧 Podcast: Find out why Imperfect Action host Steph Taylor says learning from mistakes should be a business owner’s mantra.

📈 Cure boredom: Want to play with the stock market but not spend any money? Here ya go.

📷 Wow: Check out these stunning images of the northern lights.

🐈 Aww: And now, three cats that are way too old for this.

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Today’s email was brought to you by Jacob Cohen, Juliet Bennett Rylah, and Rob Litterst.
Editing by: Mark “Where’s my luggage?” Dent.

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