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The Airline Industry’s Fee-for-all

Dec 052012
 By , December 5, 2012
The Airline Industry's Fee-for-all

Big news, holiday travelers! American Airlines has a new family deal for you. If you and the kids are headed off to grandma’s house, Disney World or wherever, the airline will make an effort to seat you next to each other.

Well, that’s not exactly new or special, since most airlines have long done this. But here’s the “new” part in American’s family seating deal: You pay a fee for it. Being seated together is no longer a gracious service, but a calculated nickel-and-dime opportunity for the corporation to squeeze more out of you. And, actually, it’s quite a bit more than a nickel or a dime — to get “family seat reservations,” American hits you up for $25, each way.

Of course, paying this corporate tax doesn’t guarantee that your seats will actually stay attached to the plane. American, you might recall, had a rash of flights grounded in October due to the rather startling in-flight experience of passenger seats suddenly coming loose. At the time, the airline’s executives rushed to suggest that disgruntled members of the Transportation Workers Union were behind this odd malfunction.

Well, no. Internal documents have now revealed that the sabotage came right out of the executive suite. In order to charge additional fees to customers wanting a bit of extra legroom, the geniuses at the top ordered that the seating plan on American’s 757’s be reconfigured.

Fine … except they then tried to get the re-installations done on the cheap. Rather than having their own highly skilled and experienced mechanics do the work, they outsourced it to low-wage, non-union contractors. The contractors, in turn, “misinterpreted” American’s maintenance manual, did “incorrect installations” of seats and even had students doing some of the installations.

Finally admitting to this shoddy management, American’s hierarchy resorted to cold corporatethink to rationalize it: “Our competitors (do maintenance) where it is most cost-effective,” they explained. “We must similarly adapt.”

Cost-effective? Fee-fie-foe-fum, I smell another fee coming on. “You want safety? Hey, we’ve got a fee for that.”

Those who say we should run government like a business must not be frequent flyers.

Flying, which was once a fairly good experience, now amounts to being herded, harassed, barked at and squeezed — while being dunned every step of the way for fee after onerous fee.

Make a reservation? Do it yourself, or pay extra. Check a bag? The fee for that is so pricey that most passengers have had to turn themselves into mules, toting their full load on board — a burden that some airlines are said to be viewing as a new fee opportunity, a chance to charge us for using the airplane bins to store the stuff we’re having to schlep.

What’s next, a charge to use the toilet? Yes! Here’s the CEO of a European airline, Ryanair, speaking a couple of years ago: “One thing we are looking at again is the possibility of maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door.” Hasn’t happened yet, but don’t count it out — after all, mused another Ryanair exec, a toilet tax would be voluntary, since passengers have the option of not using the toilet.

Even though the airlines are in the black again and keep raising their ticket prices (three times this year alone), they still keep jacking up fees … because they can. It’s free money they can simply lift out of travelers’ wallets.

“We’re all about finding ways of raising discretionary revenue,” gloated the chief of Ryanair. Nearly every airline these days is addicted to fees, and the take is both huge and growing — these add-ons will pluck $36 billion from us customers this year, $4 billion more than last year.

Is there a tipping point at which consumer grumbling about these gouges turns to rebellion? A group called thinks so. Noting that airlines are making profits again, it reports that the flying public has had it up to here with fees.

In response to rising customer fury, Delta Air Lines has taken action — not by cutting fees, but by henceforth refusing to disclose the full amount of fee revenue it takes from us each year.

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National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, "Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow," Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks. Twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower is a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, spreading the message of progressive populism all across the American grassroots. He broadcasts daily radio commentaries that are carried in more than 150 commercial and public stations and on the web.

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  • Patti

    This is a very timely article, Jim. I actually flew a few weeks ago on a “discount” airline. During the “in-flight service” we were given a choice of snacks–cookies or nuts. One man across the aisle couldn’t make up his mind, and appeared to be taking up too much of the attendant’s valuable time, so she said “here, I’ll decide,” and gave him a pack of both. Everyone around him was dumbfounded. TWO treats? Are you kidding? The person behind him was next to make a decision. He said, “hmmm, I just can’t decide…” Happy Holidays.