In an earlier age, I wrote a weekly travel column for newspapers in which the theme, stated and unstated, was simply this: the airlines are not your friends. It was drawn from the fact that no matter how cheery their advertisements and seeming inducements to fly, their mission was to get as much money out of your wallet as possible while offering — for most travelers — less and less. Now, some statistics provided by The New York Times show us things haven’t changed very much.
Last year, according to reports in the Times, passengers paid $12.4 billion above basic fares to the six largest domestic airlines. That comes from a rapidly growing assortment of fees and penalties, some of which you may know about, others of which may surprise you. Did you know, for instance, that Spirit Airlines charges you to put a bag in the overhead bin? Did you realize that many families are having to pay extra just to sit together in the coach section of their flight? And surely you are already aware you can now pay for priority boarding or for an uncomfortable seat that is a couple of more inches roomier than your other uncomfortable seat?
No, you may not have been all that cognizant because the airlines don’t exactly advertise that. Instead you see their ads for fully reclining beds on international flights, superior wine service, etc. And they do indeed offer that — if you can afford pay thousands of dollars for your ticket or you already spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to get priority status with your favorite airline.
That isn’t me. Maybe it isn’t you. We’re the ones sitting in the back of the plane in seats so tiny and cramped they should be illegal. (The more seats you can cram into a plane, the more revenue you make; capitalism at work, but hardly a “friendly” approach.) Service is negligible; I have as much admiration for the poor understaffed flight attendants who have to put up with this arrangement as I do the passengers who endure it. More and more extra fees. And the Times reports that the airlines have imposed four consecutive fare increases this year, with more likely before we get to 2013.
So exactly how much do you love your airline? How much fun is it to have to get to the airport hours ahead of time for a flight? Interestingly, flight delays have been ever-so slightly reduced lately because airlines have quit stacking so many arrivals and departures at the same time, and because they’ve cut back on their flights. That ensures more crowded passenger cabins, higher fares and less convenience, so exactly why now are they your friends?
(And in an updated development, a US Court of Appeals ruled for consumers to require airlines to publish the TOTAL air fare in their ads and not just a fare that excludes extra fees. The ruling also would give consumers who make reservations at least a week ahead of time a 24-hour window to change their plans without penalty. The “friendly” airlines were opposed to doing that.)
I used to fly often. Then occasionally. Now hardly ever and only when I can’t avoid it. As a result, I’m enjoying more pleasant travel experiences along with expenditures that are not too out of line with air fares and fees. Certainly doing without all the hassles of flying these days is worth far more than it ever used to be. In fact, I’m coming out ahead — I can now write this blog without grinding my teeth.