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I used to travel a lot. No, really, like every week. I glad I don't any more. Travel gets more difficult and annoying every week.
Its been an unusual month and I'm finally back from a long series of trips that have had me away from home for something like 15 of the last 20 days and logging something close to 20,000 air miles. To top it off, I've been flying on old-school airlines that are desperately seeking to exploit every possible method to extract the last dollar from every traveller. This means adding on more fees, playing games with seat assignments, and even charging for soft drinks while advertising to you on their aircraft.
Here's a list of things that were all done by US Airways (and some also done by American Airlines) this week. Taken together, its like a letter from the CEO saying "Please don't ever fly on our airline again. We really don't want your business, Thank you for flying the desperate skys."
1. $15 Fee per bag to check luggage -- each way. Aside from annoying me with having to hand over more money after I've bought the ticket, and aside from hiding $30 of the ticket price when comparing prices, this results in an increase in people using those damn roller-board cases to carry everything. Of course, half the things you'd keep in a toiletries bag can't clear security any more. Still, these middle management sport-jacket & jeans clad bunes flying around with their roller bags while talking loudly into their ever so hip blue tooth ear pieces mean it takes longer to load and unload the plane, costing the airlines more money than handling the luggage would. Those roller bags are also the cause of the most common injury on aircraft. They fall on people and break clavicles.
2. Unlikely or impossible connections. Of the four US Airways flights I was scheduled to take (five if you include the one I was diverted to) four were significantly delayed. Had I not known better than to wait in line -- and instead got on the phone and made my own arrangements -- I'd never have gotten to Phoenix to see my sister's wedding.
3. Seat Availability Games. I booked a good fare. It was the only reason I was on that crappy airline in the first place. My reward for giving them another chance? They offered me the worst seats on the plane. Center seats in the back, and in one case without two next to each other for my daughter and I. Of course, if we were willing to pay more, there were a great many open seats. In fact, once on board we found that there were a large number of seats empty and we could move around. In other words, it was a simple case of extort the family flyer.
4. Advertising to me. I absolutely hate this. It is one of the most invasive and intrusive things the airlines are doing now. I am forced to listen - over the PA system - to a hard sell advertising for a credit card. Even worse, they then send the attendant down the isle to individually ask each passenger to fill out the application in exchange for a miles bonus. I kept my thoughts to myself as nearly anything I could have said at that point would have meant me leaving the plane in handcuffs. This goes beyond plastering full size advertisements onto the tray tables - another new theme. This is pure "in your face" hard sales.
5. Charging for soft drinks. Charging for alcohol makes sense. Its expensive and it should be somewhat limited as it leads to problems sometimes. Now you want to charge me for soda on a 5 hour flight? Give me a break. I can almost support the charge for a sandwich. Its a bit steep, but $7 for lunch on a plane isn't too bad if its a good lunch. Its not though. You're a captive audience with no options, so they do whatever they want.
6. Surcharges for heavy luggage. Here's how it works now. You have to pay $15 each way for your first suitcase. You have to pay more for a second suitcase on many airlines -- others are just another $15. If you pack more than a total of 50 pounds (including the case) they charge you a $50 fee. More fees, more fees, more fees.
I hate surprise fees. Really hate them. In 1994 I was flying American Airlines through Chicago to Phoenix to introduce my family to my first born. Out of the blue -- half way through the trip -- a gate agent in Chicago charged me $40 to gate check the stroller. No other gate agent had ever charged me for this. I paid it. Over the next 10 years, I flew more than 500,000 miles -- much of it at full fare coach -- on Delta Airlines. I refused to fly American again for all that time. Quite literally, that $40 gate check charge cost American more than $40,000 in revenue. I only started flying American again because they have a very convenient flight to London from Boston. Last week was my first domestic flight on American in many years, and their fees and game playing assured me I made the right choice when I stopped using them. US Airways I hate for entirely more prosaic reasons. They just cannot seem to get me from one place to another with any degree of reliability.
Most of these new fees are recent, and were supposed to be to make up for the fuel cost increases. Fuel has come down now, all the way to levels far below pre-fee levels. The fees remain however.
The un-challenged top of my Airline Fecal Rouster remains: US Airways. My success rate on US Airways flights being within an hour of on schedule is now 3 out of 35 consecutive flights. American Airlines has earned the right to the current #2 spot though - thanks to their adoption of baggage fees and screwing with seat assignment availability, leaving United at #3. Southwest and Jet Blue -- cheap bastards that they are -- continue to at least provide exactly the level of service they claim. Southwest especially gets points. Its cheap, but reliable and you know what you're getting into. Jet Blue would score higher, but they shoot themselves in the foot by constantly talking over their own entertainment system to advertise to you.
Airlines - do you really want to work this hard to discourage passengers from buying your tickets?
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