Airlines For America CEO contends airline fees no different than another other consumer proposition
In an attempt to make the escalating schedule of airline fees seem less noxious, Mr. Nicholas Calio, the CEO of Airlines For America (A4A), the US industry’s spokesgroup, has issued a statement. His contention is that the measures are “no different than any other consumer proposition.”
Not so fast, Nick. There are some services that can reasonably be deemed as chargeable - food, for instance. Most travel involves no more than 5 hours aloft and patrons are paying for transport, not meal service. No one will starve in that period, and there are numerous options for bringing food aboard that makes inflight purchase unnecessary. For others, avoiding the hassle of pre-purchase or home preparation makes the onboard purchase option beneficial. The same is true of other unequal inflight benefits, such as seats with additional legroom.
But Mr. Calio stretches a bit too far in other justifications. He compares reservation of airline seats to the practice of getting seats at sporting or concert venues - a tenuous comparison at best. Prices at such events vary according to position in the hall or arena, where closer proximity to the action can command a higher price - and families can choose adjoining seats at no extra cost. The airlines, however, believe that the ability to simply sit next to your spouse or kid is a revenue source. Sorry, you lose on this one.
But the bulk of the justification concerns bag charges, deemed the number one gripe by passengers. That argument is summed up in the following statement, “Nobody expects to pay for services they don't use or subsidize someone else's choices.” Hmm, really? Has he looked at his tax bill lately? People without children still pay school taxes and those who have no cars still contribute funds to the road infrastructure. Taxes from non-fliers are used by the FAA and services like public broadcasting note during pledge drives that a minority of listeners and viewers subsidizes the service for those who do not contribute. To assume that every aspect of daily life is based on payment or non-payment according to choice simply does not hold water - which, I might add, in many areas is provided at no cost to all though consumption can vary widely.
Since most travelers still have luggage, baggage systems are a necessary component of airports and even the most dedicated “hand luggage only” traveler will need to check a bag at some point, thus using the infrastructure provided. Furthermore, airlines contend that these charges help to pay for the added fuel needed to carry bags. But if passengers simply cram the same weight into hand carry bags, thus avoiding the fees, is less fuel used? And when the cost per bag is doubled, is that a reflection of the increased cost incurred by the airline or is it simply a “gotcha” opportunity?
The problem with the mountain of fees is not just their unpopularity but is rooted more securely in the facetious and arbitrary nature of the process. Admittedly, the airlines are in a tight spot, with the price of fuel, a primary business component, out of their control, and costs are increasing. Plus, they have begun to charge for services that used to be free, and that is always a dicey move—no matter how much a change in policy is warranted.
However, they have done a poor job of getting travelers to understand the justification or the rationale used to levy the fees. And self-serving explanations like Mr. Calio’s, simply ring hollow. Even new cars sport explanatory pricing stickers that give more information than the average airline ad - though how the car purchase process unfolds from there usually remains opaque.
If the airlines want to improve their image, they need to show consumers that their actions are based on need rather than greed. Until that happens, statements like the one issued by Mr. Calio will continue to illicit eye rolls and a sense of being continuously flim-flammed.