Airlines push governments on security


Airline industry officials this week began what became a chorus of calls to take a second look at security procedures when flying to the United States. The move began earlier this week when British Airways boss Martin Broughton labeled some US-government imposed security checks as “redundant” and inconsistent with requirements levied on local US airlines.

Many passengers are required to remove their shoes before clearing airport metal detectors, and are also prohibited from taking liquids in their carry on bags as a result of a series of threats. Laptops are also scanned separately, a requirement that has been questioned in some circles.

A senior official with the German aviation giant Lufthansa, in Montreal for an industry event this week, echoed the BA claims and called on European and US officials to forge a consistent set of standards.

“We put it in a broader sense that since the years following 9/11, security build up has been constant but not necessarily consistent,” Jens Bischof, vice president for the Americas of Lufthansa said, “and this is a challenge for the traveling public. A harmonized system is the goal in order to make it more efficient.”

Consumers ready to submit to security procedures
The airline industry calls come despite the release of a study earlier this year that revealed that nearly three quarters of Americans were either “somewhat,” or “very” satisfied with airport security measures. According to the nationwide study conducted by the corporate and leisure travel firm, travel leaders.

The poll was conducted with 800 consumers throughout the United States, and revealed that almost 82 percent were not even concerned about the use of full-body scanners at airport security checkpoints.

Yet while airlines cry foul over concerns about security directives, I wonder why they are avoiding addressing passenger frustrations that have altered aviations basic passenger services. In addition to security issues; for many, flying has become a frustrating a la carte menu of fees and levies.

With less flights taking off, airlines have increased prices and passengers are forced to grapple with a plethora of taxes, fuel surcharges, baggage fees and pay-for-service in-flight entertainment and even food and beverage services. Passengers are forced to acquiesce to a flying experience that has turned into tollbooth-style air-travel.

In 2009, Airlines earned a reported US$2.7 billion in baggage fees alone, with airline ancillary fees estimated to top US$10 billion. As a result, some US lawmakers have called on government to re-regulate an industry that was set to market forces in more than three decades ago. US of regulation could eventually result in the imposition of government agencies to set standards on airlines entering the aviation market.

A plethora of fees
“It would be nice to experience the good old days of two bags free and flexibility with carry-ons,” says Edward H. Sanborn IV of Sanborn Capital Management, a member of the facebook group. “But I don’t know how to effectively complain.”

“Being an airline owner has almost never been a get rich quick scheme,” he adds, “I am resigned to paying more as the ‘cost’ of insuring a viable and competitive market. But two bags free and all kind of other former perks are sadly missed.”

Fees on check-in bags are only the start for consumers. On a recent 14-hour flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong that I took with United Airlines, personal entertainment units were on offer for a US$10 rental fee. A pillow and blanket set on Jet Blue sets you back US$7, while processing fees to purchase reward tickets have also been introduced by many airlines. Many US airlines also charge US$20-35 for check-in bags.

A USA Today survey of 15 airlines found some 19 chargeable products or services from bag check-ins, preferred seating, or telephone ticket purchase levies.

Even Lufthansa, which prides itself as providing a premium product, has a US$50 levy for a second checked in luggage on their Europe-bound economy tickets.

“We are only synchronizing and being consistent with changing worldwide standards,” says Bischof, defending his company as it follows changing industry practice, “the second bag fee is now a worldwide norm.”