As I was checking my AOL email today (yes, I still use AOL, don’t judge me) one of the “Today on AOL” headlines caught my attention. The headline was “Are Airlines Going Too Far?” and the brief description was “They make billions charging $25 for extra bags and up to $100 to pick a seat in coach.” I immediately rolled my eyes at the “they make billions…” part, because, well, it’s not like the airlines are rolling in money. 😉
Fortunately the article wasn’t quite as bad as the description, although it still kind of annoyed me. My general philosophy when it comes to US airlines is that they have no choice but to compete on price. With Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, etc., which allows consumers to easily compare airlines side-by-side, not to mention the dire state of the airline industry, how can they not? On one hand it pains me to see what the airline industry has turned into, but at the same time we’re paying less to fly than we were 30 years ago, and that’s not accounting for inflation. Hell, flying 5,000 miles can often be cheaper than driving a couple of hours. I just have a hard time feeling sorry for all the people bitching about how bad travel is when they they paid $200 to cross the country. I can’t even begin to say how thankful I am for elite benefits, because fortunately I get treated much better than I should be.
Anyway, let’s talk about the article.
The first point made is about booking fees:
The gouging begins with booking. If you don’t purchase tickets online via the airline website, you’re instantly assessed a $5-$25 surcharge (the only exception is Southwest Airlines). Allegiant even forces you to buy your ticket at the airport. Want to change your itinerary? You’ll be asked to cough up as much $150 on American, Continental, United and US Airways, plus any difference in fares between your new and old dates.
Maybe they charge for booking by phone because it’s so easy to book online. There’s no reason not to. And the change fees are nothing new, c’mon now.
Then the author talks about costly miles:
Frequent fliers beware—flying for free isn’t as easy as it used to be either. Most airlines now assess a booking fee for frequent flyer mile redemption; reserving without sufficient notice (an outrageous 22 days on Delta) will cost even more. Higher mileage requirements recently went into effect, re-banking miles for unused tickets (even with advance notice) costs up to $100, most airlines won’t even credit your account for flights under 500 miles, and American now charges moolah in addition to miles for upgrades. Same goes for any vouchers, which can’t be booked online, which means that you’re facing a phone surcharge.
Other than the point about not crediting accounts for flights under 500 miles (which is totally inaccurate and makes me wonder how this person is a “travel writer”), I can’t disagree with the facts. But, I would argue that the mileage programs are as rewarding as they’ve ever been. Between promotions for flying (like double elite qualifying miles) and the plethora of ways to earn frequent flyer miles (credit cards, dining, buying flowers, etc.), it’s so easy for just about anyone to travel for next to nothing. If we’re looking at it from a bit more of a long term perspective, the creation of airline alliances has to be one of the best things to happen to frequent flyer programs ever.
Then the author talks about seat selection:
Want to select your steerage (ahem, economy) seats in advance? Air Canada, AirTran, and Allegiant now charge for this “perk.” Then there’s “preferred” seat selection, which means that if you’ll be charged extra if you choose a seat near the front, a window, the aisle, or in a roomy exist row (depending on the route, JetBlue, Virgin America, and United charge upwards of $100 for this privilege).
Again, this isn’t fair. JetBlue took seats out of their plane to increase the legroom for some seats (and those seats are VERY roomy), so it only makes sense that they charge for it. Virgin America has Main Cabin Select, where you can basically eat and drink as much as you want. And United charges upwards of $100 for selecting non-Economy Plus seats? That’s news to me.
I’m not going to go through all of these, but here’s my favorite:
These days, it seems like airlines are trying to stuff as many seats as legally possible into new or reconfigured aircraft. But is that smart business? Kathy Kuhn alleges she injured her knee while trying to climb over a broken armrest during a Dec 7, 2009 Detroit-Las Vegas flight, necessitating surgery. The legal system didn’t consider her claim frivolous, as her lawsuit against Northwest Airlines, which denied liability, was moved last month from state to federal court in Detroit.
I’d love if the author could point out to me how seats are getting smaller. Certainly not over the past few years, and if anything the trend is in the other direction, offering standard legroom and then an opportunity to purchase more legroom. And what on earth does the example have to do anything? Injuring oneself due to a broken armrest has what to do with shrinking seats?
OK, thanks for reading, I feel better now. 😀