Senator Schumer and the Myth of Cheap Air Travel.


Senator Chuck Schumer is confused once again. This time, it seems he’s confusing “consumer rights” with “consumer products.”

Last month, Schumer heralded a questionable attachment to the FAA Re-Authorization Bill as the answer to the underlying causes of pilot fatigue and regional pilot levels of experience. He was wrong, but his press releases on the subject made for decent publicity for the senator.

Now Schumer weighs in on carry-on baggage and airlines, stating that the former is a passenger “right” that must be provided for free by the latter.

Hogwash.

The consumer “right” when it comes to airlines is to choose one over the other, which has everything to do with free enterprise and the marketplace which governs the “right,” or more accurately, the product.

Spirit Airlines as a private company has both the right and the obligation to price every component of their product. And consumers have every right to choose another airline without the baggage fee, if the fee is a deal-breaker for the passenger.

That’s free enterprise. And whether Schumer admits it or not, the fee proposed by Spirit Airlines is a direct result of the Airline Deregulation Act. The marketplace, according to congress, is supposed to determine airline ticket prices. That’s why congress disbanded the Civil Aeronautics Board which up until 1978 regulated airline ticket prices and routes.

My personal opinion? As with fare hikes, this may be a trial balloon on Spirit’s part: if no other airline joins Spirit and institutes their own charge for carry-on luggage, I’d expect that the fee will go the way of most fare hikes–that is, into the garbage. Nonetheless, air travel is not nor ever has been cheap to produce and airlines continue to lose money despite any fees or fares enacted.

That would be the marketplace doing what congress directed when they enacted the law, and Schumer knows that. But he can’t resist an opportunity to grandstand, no matter how insincere it is.

Fees are irritating and costly, but airline seats simply are costly, too, and have to be paid for. This is a lesson not lost on Europeans who have a fiercely competitive airline market–and a plethora of passenger fees that clearly go hand-in-hand with low fares. Check below for the schedule of “nickel-dime” fees, to use Schumer’s term, of one of the leading European discount carriers.

Meanwhile, when the basic market forces of production cost meet Schumer’s myth of cheap air travel, guess which one will win–or we will all lose the “right” of air travel to the cost of producing the luxury.

From the Ryanair website:

Ryan Air Table of Fees


<< BACK
(UK Pounds/Euro or local currency equivalent) Booked on www.ryanair.com Booked via a Call Centre* or Airport
  UK Pounds Euro UK Pounds Euro
Online Check-In (not charged on some promotional fares) £5 €5 £10 €10
Mastercard Prepaid Debit Card
As a special offer to the above card holders, Ryanair, for a limited period only, will not apply an administration fee
Free Free Free Free
Administration FeePer passenger/ Per One Way Flight This fee relates to costs associated with Ryanair’s booking system and processing payments. £5 €5 £5 €5
Priority Boarding Fee* – Per passenger/ Per One Way Flight £4 €4 £5 €5
Airport Boarding Card Re-issue – n/a n/a £40 €40
Infant Fee – Per Infant/Per One Way flight (must be under 2 years for both outbound and return flight) £20 €20 £20 €20
Checked Baggage Fees* – (Each passenger is permitted to check-in up to 2 bags with a maximum weight of 15kg per bag)Different rates fees apply depending on the date of travel (peak rates apply for travel in July and August)1st Bag – 15kg allowance – per bag/ per One Way Flight £15 €15 £35 €35
1st Bag – Peak Rate July/August £20 €20 £40 €40
2nd Bag – 15kg allowance – per bag/ per One Way Flight £35 €35 £70 €70
2nd Bag – Peak Rate July/August £40 €40 £80 €80
Excess Baggage Fee – Per Kilo
Fee can only be purchased at the airport ticket desk
Not Available Online Not Available Online £20 €20
Infant Equipment* (car/booster/travel cot) Fee charged per Item/ Per One Way Flight (1 pushchair carried free of charge). A maximum weight of 20kg per item £10 €10 £20 €20
Sports Equipment* Fee charged per Item/ Per One Way Flight A maximum weight of 20kg per item £40 €40 £50 €50
Musical Instrument* Fee charged per Item/ Per One Way Flight A maximum weight of 20kg per item £40 €40 £50 €50
Flight Change Fees* – Per Passenger/ Per One Way Flight £25 €25 £55 €55
Name Change Fee* – Per Passenger £100 €100 £150 €150
*Up to 4 hours prior to your scheduled flight departure you can purchase online – checked bags, priority boarding, sports/infant equipment and musical instruments even if you have already checked in online for your flight.

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8 Responses to “Senator Schumer and the Myth of Cheap Air Travel.”

  1. Tom Seagraves Says:

    Captain,
    We continue to be spoiled Americans with entitlement attitudes. I flew yesterday and a first class passenger threw a big fit with the gate agent because he couldn’t have a window seat. He told the gate agent that seating should be based on number of miles (seniority) that each passenger has. He actually expected the gate agent to move the window seat passenger to an aisle. Can you imagine the tantrum he would have had if he had to pay for a carry-on. When did we get this way? Why can’t a business charge and expect a fee for service? If we don’t like the service or the fee then we as consumers can go elsewhere. When I heard Schumer was getting involved in this I was really upset about it. Let Capitalism rule!

    • Yes, I think the intent of deregulation was to force the marketplace to set prices, but what it’s really done is Walmart-ize what once was a show piece of smooth, fast, efficient travel.

      Now it’s a mess, having degenerated from Neiman-Marcus to Walmart. Unfortunately, there was no safety net in The Airline Deregulation Act. Yes, there’s travel from “A” to “B,” but it’s painful, shabby and not really inexpensive–but still not enough revenue to sustain the producers of the product.

  2. Great points and write-up. Schumer has a long resume with the airline industry, often just a chance to look like the good guy, even if in the face of reality.

    Though Spirit’s move was a silly one, I think, no one’s rights were violated and Chuck should work on more important issues.

    Sorry to plug my own, but for those looking to learn about his other unnecessary participation in aviation… http://nycaviation.com/2009/08/17/piloticians/

  3. You hit the nail on the head here. These days airlines must get creative in seeking new ways to “survive”. I have to say, Ryanair may not be British Airways in terms of stature, however they deliver rock solid results by doing exactly what they say they do. If you actually read and follow the instructions and rules of fare and check-in, you get a very efficient, safe, and economical flight from A to B. Like I said before, the public needs to be educated to the fact that the legacy carrier business model is no longer sustainable. We can either accept the changes , or continue to suffer the consequences of a very volatile and insecure future as further operating cost hikes, (as in fuel) forever alter the way we travel.

    • Yes, I agree that the European airline model is the way of the future. It’s not bad, either, it’s just that consumer expectations have to be realistic.

  4. When airlines started charging for luggage the traveling public soon learned that if they lugged their over-sized bags onto the plane they could receive FREE gate checks once it was determined the bags were too big and/or too heavy to go into the overhead bins. If the airlines charged for those gate checks with a penalty — maybe 50% more than the normal luggage fee –then the whole issue of charging for carry-on would likely never have come up. As it is, I am so sick of the wasted time it takes for the post-boarding gate checks I’m ready to pay the carry-on fees if it means cutting down on the ridiculous current carry-on situation.

  5. Yours is a very good realization. The Airline Deregulation Act ensured the availability of air transportation for the masses, but it’s going to be mass transportation more like the bus than a limo. Schumer aside, nickels and dimes are going to be the rule, just like Ryanair. Spirit is just the first US domestic airline to go quite that far, but economics will dictate that every other airline follows, eventually, or perish.

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