Sky high

Posted on June 19th, 2008 by george.
Categories: society, travel.

Let’s talk for a second about airlines, shall we?  (Disclaimer:  Lacey, my friend, this is in no way directed at you.  I realize you and hundreds of thousands of other people make their living working in the air transportation industry.)

Now.  I’m an avid flyer.  I love it.  I love travel.  I want to be a pilot.  And amidst all the clamor of rising fuel prices, I’ve kept mum.  I’m happy petrol prices are rising; I hope it spurs change, since nothing but the bottom line seems to be able to motivate the majority of humanity.

But I’m gonna take a moment right now just to vent about the creative ways that airlines are looking to make their business profitable.  You’ve heard about American setting the standard by charging for checked bags.  Within weeks everyone else jumped on the bandwagon, and that one’s easy:  I travel light.  I never check bags.  It got a little tougher after the Theater Security Administration banned liquids and gels, but it’s just another bump in the turbulence, right?

Well we’re headed up to Chattanooga in a couple weeks to meet my new nephew (due any day now!) and I got the good word from Dad that I should check out Allegiant Air for direct flights from Orlando.  All well and good, right?  Yeah…

It’s nice that the internet has forced (or allowed, depending on your perspective) airlines to show you the price of each leg of your journey, so you can adjust departure and arrival dates in search of the lowest fare.  But the fees are starting to get ridiculous.  You think to yourself…each leg for under $100, that’s not bad at all!  Then you’re reminded…oh yeah…taxes and fees.  It would be one thing if it were on the order of sales tax, somewhere under ten percent.  But twenty-seven percent of the base price?!  Isn’t that higher that credit card interest rates?

Ok, where do we begin?  Federal taxes of $23?  That should cover the FAA and ATC and the TSA and any other TLA, right?  Wrong.  They’re STILL charging a “September 11th fee.”  Just to keep the fear in us, I suppose.  Segment fees?  PFC?  Miscellaneous?  Forget what those are even supposed mean?  Miscellaneous?  Seriously, guys?  You might as well say, “we added this on so we could advertise a lower fare.”

Still, all this I was already grudgingly aware of.  What gets me is what comes next.  Just like signing up for websites means that the little box for “please send me spam” is already checked, Allegiant pre-selects all its fees for you.  Oh!  How convenient!  You’re going to charge me $15 to reserve EACH seat?  There and back?  It took me a full minute to figure out how to decline seat reservations.  Surely that’s it.  But wait, there’s more!

These are small regional jets, so the carryons are limited to 8 by 16 by 19 inches.  Good thing I bought my suitcase in Lilliput.  Even if I wanted to check a bag?  $20 apiece.  Just to start.  And that’s when you tell them in advance!  It’s even more if you show up at the counter with grandma’s heirloom wardrobe in tow.

Click through to the next screen.  Surely I can input my credit card info now.  Oh wait, what’s this?  A rescheduling fee?  You want me to pay you sixty bucks just so I can have the OPTION of changing my flights?  You must be joking.  Southwest does that for free.  Quick, where’s the deselect button?  Better yet, where’s another airline?

Add this to the fact that many airlines are now charging piecemeal for every single consumable on board, coupled with the TSA’s diligent prohibition of food and drinks from home and the airport’s oh-so-reasonable prices (did I mention how convenient it is to the airport’s quarterly projections that you’re forced to buy food there?), and you have a perfect storm of passenger discontent.

Still, I guess it beats driving.



Comment on June 19th, 2008.

I can totally understand how that would be completely irritating. I am irritated for you. That’s really over the edge.

That being said, Continental doesn’t nickel and dime you. CO does charge for the second bag, but as far as I know that’s the only irritating charge aside from a higher charge overall.

Two more things: CO loses 44 million dollars per year for every DOLLAR a barrel of oil rises. And since oil is twice as much as it was last year, that means over $60 is lost on each passenger. That’s a lot. So the extra charges need to be warranted.

The second thing is that 18 positions in my department were eliminated this week. So I don’t think it’s an issue of staying profitable, it’s an issue of survival at this point. Profit sharing is nice, but I’d rather know that I’m going to have a job tomorrow.


Comment on June 19th, 2008.

When I was booking my ticket, it asked me if I wanted a window or an aisle seat. I picked window for picture take-age and because I hate playing sit-down-stand-up-sit-down-stand-up when the person next to me has to pee. Well, those seats cost EXTRA. Like 20 bucks each. Yeah, I’ll take a middle seat, thanks. Suitcases? 20 bucks each. Etc, etc. I was seriously annoyed.

By the way, regarding Lacey’s comment and your entry in general… A bit over a month ago, I was at a conference where they talked about how companies lose money for every dollar a barrel of oil rises, how there would be a lot of people laid off soon, how “discount airlines” were soon to be a thing of the past… and how we shouldn’t get too excited about offers like JetBlue has, 150USD round trip Boston-Cancun, for example, because it won’t last… And one of the more recent conferences? More of the same. Everyone is angry about the prices, but it makes sense. It’s just not sustainable.


Comment on June 20th, 2008.

I think your post illustrates one of my recent blog posts about trust and transparency. By obscuring the cost of the trip with hidden fees, it makes it harder for you the traveler to know whether you got a good deal.

The airlines do need to recoup the cost of rising fuel. However, they need to openly raise the cost of the ticket and not move benefits / services to fees of $20 here and $40 there.


Comment on June 23rd, 2008.

Southwest. YES.

Also isn’t it about time we had solar-powered planes?


Comment on June 23rd, 2008.

Oh, we have solar planes. They are made of plastic, barely powerful enough to keep themselves aloft, and fly at a bracing 25mph.

I cannot overstate the readily usable energy density of hydrocarbons. With today’s technology, we cannot capture enough energy from sunlight to fly at the edge of the speed of sound with 500 people and their luggage aboard. That may never be possible, even if we could convert 100% of sunlight into electricity, which the second law of thermodynamics tells us is impossible. Batteries are heavy, and planes must be light. As we move forward and diversify the energy storage methods we use in transportation systems, airplanes may be the last to shift from hydrocarbons. It’s going to take something like a miniature tokamak to wean jets from avgas.


Comment on June 28th, 2008.

So, I was looking into tickets from JFK to Budapest. A $750 ticket for August got about $350 of taxes and fees slapped onto it. A $330 ticket for September got $450 of taxes and fees slapped onto it… meaning taxes and fees were actually more than the “ticket itself” and more than they would’ve been on a more expensive ticket (which means they’re not a percentage of the ticket price at all and may not actually follow any type of schedule, table, or rhyme or reason).


Georgie, thank you for so comprehensively and eloquently describing this whole outrageous phenomenon.

And perhaps the silver lining in all of this oil-price madness is that finally, for once, mainstream Americans living comfortable suburbia lives will be forced to wake up a take a little bit of notice of the rest of the world’s population and the state of an ever more global, interconnected, and ailing humanity.

On Oil | Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

Pingback on June 29th, 2008.

[…] A while ago, George wrote about the new fees for flying. Lacey pointed out how the price of oil affects the cost of running an airline. Thoughts about these have been lurking in my head ever since. Today I have watched a couple times a speech given by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett on how oil production is about to peak. The transcript helped the second time through. I also watched A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash on Netflix’s Watch Instantly. […]


Comment on July 5th, 2008.

Yeah, the thing that’s a bit disturbing to me is that the airlines are struggling to recoup fuel costs, all the while perpetuating the completely insane degree of compensation for top execs. A couple months ago, United Airlines announced it would be cutting over 1000 jobs, and would be approving a plan for $130 million dollars in further incentives to executives. Midwest broke this trend, its CEO cutting his own pay by 40% this year. There is a huge need for airlines to restructure their business plans, but it seems to me that this sort of outrageous compensation (we’re talking tens of millions of dollars in salary and stocks for CEOs) has to be part of that restructuring.

George, I love what you’ve outlined here, and your point about crisis paving the way for (technological) victory. I only hope that we can pull together, develop new solutions, and relieve us of our petrol strain.

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