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Are Airlines Price Gouging?

Written by: Jan Shaughnessy

I remember when I used to love to fly - back in the day before the Government de-regulated the airlines.  People dressed nice for their flights, you received a hot meal, and you had leg room.  

Fast forward to 2010.  I still actually love flying.  That is, the aspect of the flight itself. There’s something about the plane speeding up for the take off, the actually lift, then the climbing up to a pre-set altitude where the plane levels off and then peacefully glides along.  I am mesmerized as I stare out at the fluffy clouds.  

But what I don’t like about flying today is the whole ordeal the airlines put you through with prices on air tickets and amenities.

It starts with the horrid game of finding the right flights at the right price.  Recently, I was looking for a flight from Nashville to Fort Lauderdale for November 14-17th.  I needed something that would get me there late morning or early afternoon.  Nope, no early morning flights whatsoever.  The only flights were early afternoon getting there in the evening.  I was looking at fares of $300-$350.  I was not happy.  

I didn’t want to fly the day before and have the added expense of a hotel.  I waited five days and on a Sunday afternoon I decided to check flights again.  Bingo, there was the perfect early flight  and perfect return I needed, and the price was $180.  

If the process of finding the right flights for the right price doesn’t drive you batty enough, then there’s all the add ons to consider.  On August 1st, Spirit Airlines started charging for carry-on bags that don’t fit under the seat.  If you’re a member of their $9 Fare Club your carry-on will only cost $20.  Non-members who pre-pay online will be charged $30, and if you wait until check-in it’ll cost you $45 at the gate.  I guess this was Spirit’s answer to all the people who crammed their way to large carry-ons, to avoid Spirit’s checked baggage fees which are $19 pre-paid or $25 at the gate.  And that’s just for the first checked bag, which by the way better not be one pound overweight or that will cost you another $50 and up.  Oh, and let’s not forget these baggage fees are each way, not round trip.  The major airlines Delta, American, United, Continental, and US Airways have similar policies on checked baggage, but as of yet, don’t charge for carry-on.

Now that we have the airfare and baggage figured out,  what else is there to consider? Well, Southwest is charging $10 each way now for the privilege of being first on the plane.  Spirit charges $8 a segment for a seat assignment and $25 for a Big Front Seat.  Other major carriers will also charge for what they call premium seats.  Which may mean a little more leg room, an aisle seat, or exit row.  You’ll also have to consider all the onboard expenses.  International Ryan Airlines announced in April that they did intend to charge for using the bathroom.  Some airlines are charging for pillows, blankets, and headsets.  Just about all are charging for meals and snacks, anywhere from $3 for snacks to $8 and $10 for meals.  

Let’s not even talk about those $5-$7 beers and cocktails.  A couple years ago American Airlines tested charging for a soda and it backfired.  This is where I draw the line too.  I would refuse to pay $2 for a coke on a plane.  If I am frugal I can buy Coke on sale at $2.50 a twelve pack.  That’s roughly 21 cents a can.  Now, you know the airlines have contracts with suppliers and  are buying in bulk.  So what is that can of Coke costing them?  If the airlines are going to lock me up in a stuffy plane for hours the least they can do is quench my thirst with a soda that cost them less than 21 cents.

Spirit Airlines is even entertaining the idea of charging you to talk to a human being.  They believe that anything that can be done electronically should be done online or the airport kiosk.  If something can’t be done electronically, then they wouldn’t charge you for having human intervention.  Is this fair?  What about elderly people or lower income people that still don’t have computers?  What if you’re traveling and need assistance but don’t have access to a computer?  I remember many years ago when the airport kiosk first came out.  I flew Northwest all the time then.  I handed my ticket to the lady behind the counter to only be told “You need to check in on the kiosk.”  What!  You’re standing there doing nothing and I have to check myself in?  Don’t these employees realize they are going to put themselves out of a job?

I can’t imagine what the airlines will come up with next.  But I’m sure they’ll keep trying to gouge their paying passengers.  I think they could take a look at some of their own policies and look at cut backs.  For instance, I don’t see why they have to give all these “buddy passes” to every Tom, Dick, or Harry, that knows an airline employee. Let them pay!  So where will it all end?  How low will they go (or should I say how high)?   Like my favorite actor Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force.  ”A man’s got to know his limitations.”    Well, the soda is mine, what’s yours?

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Comments

Comment from Dave Beers
Time August 10, 2010 at 11:19 am

The fees just keep on coming with no end in sight. How about the other things airlines do to drum up some income? I remember flying on Delta last year and we got a sales pitch over the intercom to sign up for their affinity credit card with American Express. Flight Attendants then trolled the aisles handing out applications. “Sign up on this flight and you get 10000 Sky Miles free!” It was ridiculous. And there is nothing to do but sit there like a prisoner and listen to it.

Kiosks…another hot button. I tried to use one at MIA a couple years ago and it wouldn’t accept my info and told me to go to the counter. So I get in line and the “customer relations” person patrolling the line yelled at me to use the kiosk. I told her what happened and of course she didn’t believe me. So we go with her to the kiosk and she tries it and says “you’ll have to see the person at the counter”. Meanwhile 20 more people got in line which made our wait longer.

Comment from Don B. – Pittsburgh, PA USA
Time August 10, 2010 at 12:35 pm

The airlines are cruisin for a brusin in my opinion; they need regulated and put back in their place. We need to bring back the rail systems so there is at least competition. High speed trains would be cool. I beleive the airlines will also charge you to use the restroom in the near future. Oooo, and that small bag of peanuts will cost you more than your carryon. All airlines suck!

Comment from Dan S.
Time October 22, 2010 at 10:54 pm

American Airlines is one of the worst at price gauging. You check on a flight and then go back a little later and they have raised it $50. Then you call them and they raise it another $50. They obviously do not care at all about us. They only care about seeing how much money they can get out of us.

Comment from Jan Shaughnessy
Time October 23, 2010 at 9:36 am

Dan,
When you call the airlines the $50 extra is most likely the reservation fee they are charging you if they book it over the phone. Airline fares on websites fluctuate constantly due to people booking, holding seats, releasing them, cancelations, etc. I have seen prices change right before my eyes in the middle of booking.

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