By Bill Buchanan
Fresh off the public relations nightmare of thousands of delayed and canceled flights over the holidays that left many travelers stranded in airports for days, some major airlines have decided to add insult to injury by piling even more miscellaneous fees on their customers in the coming year.
Granted, the airlines could do nothing to prevent the bad weather. But some airlines did not even bother to alert passengers their flights were to be canceled, then did not answer the phone when people called in to attempt to re-book the flight. Now comes the news that several carriers are looking to add more a’ la carte fees this year. Jay Sorenson, president of IdeaWorks, a company that tracks consumer trends, was quoted in a recent report as saying, “Once considered an aberration only associated with low-cost carriers, ancillary revenue is now a point of pride among senior executives at major airlines.”
Some airlines already charge for things like checked baggage, early check-in and unaccompanied minors. Now there is talk of charging customers for overhead bin space and a fee for small children who sit in their parent’s lap (now free on domestic flights). Yeah, I can see where charging a mother a fee to have a squirming child in her lap for a few hours would make the senior executives’ chests swell with pride.
But since I feel sympathy for the airlines, I have come up with a few suggestions that might help them pad the paltry $22 billion they took in with extra fees last year. For instance, why not start charging people a fee for all those who want to recline their seat? Why should people think they have the right to attempt to find some comfort in these noisy, crowded, ever-shrinking planes? Maybe they could lock each seat in place, then charge people $5 for a key to allow it to recline. Better yet, why not make it like a car wash where you pay more for wheel cleaner or wax? It could be $5 to recline the seat 3 inches, $7 to recline it 6 inches and maybe $10 to let it back all the way.
Another idea would be to post little toll booths at the conveyor sidewalks and charge people an access fee. Why not take advantage of those rushing to make their next flight by asking them to pay a little extra? Never mind that the reason they are rushing is that the airplane was late coming into the terminal to begin with. You could charge them at each sidewalk station, or give them the option of buying something like an “E-Z Pass” in advance that they could just flash in front of the attendant. Maybe the airline could point out that this would save the passenger the hassle of having to come up with exact change. Who wouldn’t appreciate such thoughtfulness?
And why limit fees to just the able-bodied? Why not charge all those senior citizens, the injured, as well as those with disabilities fees for the use of wheelchairs? Why should they get a “free ride” so to speak? Why not turn those skycaps into airport wheelchair taxi drivers? They could charge a flat rate plus mileage — maybe $5 plus 10 cents a foot. I mean after all, if someone has a broken leg, they are at your mercy, right? What choice do they have?
If the airlines are smart and greedy, and we know they are at least one of those, they should jump on these and other ideas to gouge travelers as much as possible. After all, what is more valuable, public relations or public pick-pocketing?
The insensitivity of the airlines reminds me of a former football coach at Alabama. To say he had a prickly personality is like saying Bernie Madoff made a few accounting errors. At times it seemed to be the coach’s goal to make as many people mad as possible. In fact, it was said of Ray Perkins that if he were to learn that there was anyone in the state he had not yet angered, he would get in his car and drive four hours just find that person so he could tick him off, too. In the years after he left Alabama, I lost track of him.
He might be working as an airline consultant.