Airline Fees: Just The Tip of the Iceberg.


With the summer travel season upon us now, you can hardly watch more than thirty minutes of any newscast without some mention of airline fees which, according to every source pandering to public perception, are skyrocketing and unfair.

I’m all in favor of fairness. So, if this problem of added fees is to be eliminated for the sake of the consumer, it needs to be eliminated across the board. Because airline fees are just the tip of the iceberg.

First, and perhaps most egregiously, we need to eliminate the outrageous gouging the average consumer must bear every time a restaurant feels like charging for “extras.” To do that, everything on the menu should be included in one price. This business of charging a fee for an “appetizer,” a “dessert”–it’s nothing more than a money grab. Coffee, too–all beverages, really–should be included without an extra charge. When you order a meal, just like buying an airline ticket, everything the business has should all be included in the price. In the food service industry, that must include the bar as well: just like the ideal check-in at the airport, you should be able to tell the bartender (and of course, the business owner) “one, please.” Whether that “one” is beer, wine, liquor, a milk shake or iced tea–that must be one un-itemized or variable price, which probably needs to be set by the government to be fair.

Same goes for the auto industry: when you go into any auto dealership, every option available on all models should be included in the price. Basically, like an “airline flight,” there should be the specification “vehicle” designating that any option (or all options, at the consumer’s discretion) must be included in the sale price. This blatant price gouging involved in up-charging for “leather interior” makes as much sense as a restauranteur charging for “dessert” or an airline charging for “baggage” and clearly, the whole trend needs to be stopped.

And musicians have been getting away with this scam for too long. The business of selling songs via iTunes or other piecemeal on-line media is yet another abuse of the consumer: if you buy the Aerosmith song “Walk This Way,” you should be awarded the entire “Toys In The Attic” album, period.

Finally–and this really hits home–there’s the housing industry. When a consumer contracts with a builder, there should simply be one commodity, “a house,” like an “airline trip,” a “restaurant meal,” and a “vehicle,” with one set price including all possible options. The traditional builder “amenities package” which includes various prices for different components, materials, appliances and fixtures runs exactly counter to the basic consumer right (certainly, “passenger rights”) to have a product produced at an all-inclusive, fixed price, announced up front and encompassing every possible choice a builder could offer.

Which brings up another relevant analogy: everyone loves to decry the high price of medical care and often, doctors fees which ultimately is a thinly veiled resentment over how much doctors make.

That consumer right, however, seems to get short shrift in the emergency room or god forbid, on the operating table. There’s no one complaining about price to their anesthesiologist or their surgeon, never mind the hospital providing and charging item-by-item for the services required to provide medical care.

Clearly, the problem of “fees” is a universal plague that extends far beyond simply the airline industry. But kind of like the emergency room mindset, I seldom hear griping in flight about prices or fees when the weather is down to minimums, the winds close to limits, or the jet experiencing some type of mechanical problem.

Regardless, if one industry–in urban myth, the airline industry–is getting out of line with other commercial enterprises, maybe in fairness there should be some pricing regulation. But until the other ninety-nine percent of the for-profit industries join the one-price-fits all fairy tale espoused by those in the media, the government and ultimately, the public–we’ll just have to deal with the reality of product, price and choice that has defined free enterprise since the concept was first introduced in this country centuries ago.

Now, go to your favorite restaurant and tell them how unfair the menu is. Be sure to insist on their finest champagne to toast the deal, and it better be included in the single “meal” price. After all, that’s fair, isn’t it?

“Living the Dream:” Cathay Pacific 747 Pilot Jeremy Giguere, Live from Hong Kong.

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14 Responses to “Airline Fees: Just The Tip of the Iceberg.”

  1. Great stuff! Would love to read your take on management’s gouging of the airline employee…

  2. Fr. Jeremiah Says:

    Excellent post, Captain! Perhaps the airlines should publish an “a la carte” list of ACTUAL expenses per passenger per flight. People really are surprised when they come to realize just what it costs for a plane to get from gate to gate. Last week, a parishioner was waxing obnoxiously about a plane ticket to New York City for a conference we are attending; he was pontificating about the evils of airlines nickle-and-dime-ing us to death. Now, mind you, we got this ticket for $220 for round-trip, non-stop service between PBI and LGA. That’s a measly $110 per flight! Annoyed with him, I broke down for him the price of Jet-A that week, the “average” fuel burn for our MD-88 to get from PBI to LGA, etc. He was aghast to see that if all seats on the MD-88 were full, at our ticket price, we would have barely covered the price of fuel–let alone crew, staff, support and maintenance. I told him that if the flight attendant charge for his gin-and-tonic, he should gladly hand over his $7 and politely say “thank you, ma’am.”

  3. True to one point, but to keep the analogy, if the restaurant would charge one for the fork and knife and plates that were taken for granted before, if the car dealer would start charging a-la-carte for the fuel tank and the steering wheel, if aerosmith would charge a song note by note – you pay less but you get “crazy” without the D’s and if the contractor would charge every nail he used to build the house, i think you would feel cheated, too.

    After all, baggage is part of travel just as a gas tank or steering wheel is part of a car, and the plate and fork are part of the meal. I never heard one complain that he or she has to pay extra to fly bussiness class, just as i never heard anyone complain about paying extra for the leather seats or the glass of champagne.

    Just the way i see things

    • That’s where it becomes subjective: “After all, baggage is part of travel” is a subjective view that conflicts with the airlines’ practice of pricing everything based on value. If it’s not worth paying to check a bag, I guess you won’t pay for it. Fedex and a few other shippers are offering other deals for passengers who would rather ship their baggage–but it also costs money.

      The other subjective part of the pricing mix is the myth that everyone’s entitled to cheap airfares, regardless of what the product costs to produce. In reality, the traveler is entitled to what they can afford–Holiday Inn or The Ritz, Greyhound or the United Airlines.

      If you haven’t heard anyone complaining about paying extra for Business Class or First Class amenities, you really haven’t been around the airline business much.

      Here’s a more realistic look at airline ticket prices.

  4. Food for thought for some. A partial quote from a play, The Marat Sade.
    “Everybody engaged in happy mutual robbery”.

    One mans bargain is, after all, another mans loss.

    I think your reply above is a very good one. If X is the price of a product and I can’t afford it, then I don’t buy it. I don’t whinge about it and seek government help to reduce the sellers livelihood. I leave it for those who can afford it and are happy and willing to pay the price.

  5. If you ever get the chance, please see the play. Written by a German in the early 1960’s I believe. Set in France fifteen years after the revolution. A fast moving piece as relevant today as it ever was.
    Also quite violent. I still have the marks of a two week run and I had one of the more sedentary roles. Another member of the cast was required to wear a straight jacket in the first scene. He destroyed three of them during the run.
    My youngest daughter played one of the lunatics in the asylum.
    Sorry, I’m way off topic but I loved the production.

  6. Fantastic analogy and witty irony, Ryan. Simply very good points to make. And in such a fickle, high-cost structure industry, it’s been crucial to go to this. Oh, wait—we could save $ off the backs of the employees, too!

  7. Oops, sorry Chris. Just came over from Ryanthepilot, lol!

  8. Cedarglen Says:

    Another relevant post, sir. While I don’t agree with all of your otherwise great illistrations, I was very happy to see your response to “Mike,” the first commenter. This is not the place for th e company vs. labor debate and you do a great job of avoiding that trap. Stay clean, keep the blog – and keep your apparently pretty darn good job. Thanks.

  9. Hey Captain,

    That is amazing! I just saw a chart last week of an airplane seating arrangement where you could see how many people paid for catering, fuel, salaries and many other things. I was shocked to see how little is left as ‘profit’.

    It was an ‘a la carte’ list (like stated above) of another US airline I think, didn’t save it unfortunately!

    Bas

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