Opinion

No friendly skies left to fly

O, for the days of regulated airlines. Prices and routes were predictable. Airlines provided good customer service. They offered incentives to travel with them: free hot meals, pillows and blankets, unlimited free checked baggage. And that was for all flyers, including coach. Nowadays, that sounds like something from a fantasy, especially if one flies coach.

Recently, American Airlines decided to make matters worse. Now, they are going to charge passengers for every checked bag. No longer, for them, is the first one free and subsequent bags cost. It will just be a matter of time until the other airlines to follow suit. The only thing that might stop this would be for the traveling public to fly any other airline but American – not a likely occurrence.

This constant search for new sources of revenue from customers is getting tiresome. The airlines must realize that they only reason they can get away with all the fees is because there is no really viable alternative to traveling long distances.

When people are pressed for time, flying beats out trains and automobiles. When costs are compared, trains don’t fare well in a cost comparison. The less time spent in transit more than outweighs the extra dollars for a plane ticket. Given current fuel prices, the car has become far less attractive as an alternative and certainly loses out in the time comparison.

So, the airlines have the public by the throat. This belies the idea that the airlines are in a competitive business. They dominate the transportation choices for travelers. This dominance allows them to charge what they want for whatever they want.

Gone are pillows in coach. Turns out, for a price, one can get one or, alternatively, pay the exorbitant fare to travel first class. The same is true for meals. There are no more meals, let alone hot ones. Those are reserved for the seats in the front section of the plane. Mixed nuts or some cheese crackers are the cost-free options.

Of course, those things have been that way for a while. The latest incursion has been the charging of fees for extra baggage or for overweight baggage. The rationale originally was that with Americans now each weighing more on average, it was affecting the safety issue of the aerodynamics of the plane. Charging for heavy or excess baggage was a way to cut down on excess weight.

Now, the reason to charge for bags is to cover the cost of fuel. While it is true that more bags means heavier planes which means more fuel to fly the plane, how does charging for all checked baggage change that? All this will do is make more people try to carry all their stuff with them onto the plane. Why not just assess a special fuel fee to each ticket?

That would be too direct. This way the airlines can tell people it is up to them – don’t check bags and don’t pay a fee. A false choice as many people have no other option given how long and/or where they are traveling.

Flying has long lost its allure. It has become a very expensive aerial bus but with less comfortable seats. Customer needs don’t drive the market, the airlines’ needs do. And the customer pays for what they need.

The vaunted “free market” is a fiction. There are fewer airlines than during the years of regulation. This means fewer choices for flyers and more market control for the airlines. Then, add in all the inconvenience of wasted time in layovers, standing in line for security checkpoints and poor on time performance. It is enough to make one want to stay home.

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