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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Posted: August 10th, 2010 under Jan Shaughnessy.