Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Rising Costs of Flight

Wow. I just saw this article:

American Airlines to start charging for all checked baggage

We just got back from a trip to Florida on United, which had implemented the same $25 per second-bag that American implemented. We were traveling with an 8 month old on our lap who doesn't get a baggage allowance (only a free checked stroller and car seat). It's close to impossible to travel with a baby and pack into only two checked bags. Fortunately, we didn't get charged for our third bag. I'm not sure if this was because we bought our tickets in early Feb or if it was because I wrote a scathing email to United about how family un-friendly this whole thing was. But we were grateful not to get charged, and the extra room in Economy Plus made the flights almost comfortable. Thank you, United.

It's easy to take our frustration out on the airlines. After all, this is one industry that has become steadily less consumer friendly and more uncomfortable over the last fifteen years. They've packed extra rows of seats into planes taking away legroom. I can't even open my laptop in those seats anymore, and my laptop has gotten smaller since 1998. They've made us pay extra for meals on cross-country flights. They've made it damn near impossible to get a domestic flight for 25,000 frequent flier miles. And now they're starting to charge for all checked baggage. And with major mergers reducing the number of competitive alternatives for us to choose from, it can only get worse before it gets better.

So it's easy to take our frustration out on the airlines. But their hands are tied by the rising cost of fuel, and personally, I can't help but put the blame squarely upon the failed policies of the current reckless administration.

We flew Ryan Air between Ireland and Scotland back in November. I was amazed at the brilliance of its nickel-and-dime scheme, and honestly, shocked that such a thing happened in the welfare states of Europe when it seemed like such an American big-business innovation. I mean it was more complicated than figuring out your phone bill, with all those required, shady "taxes" and "service charges" built in. Ryan Air charges extra to check bags. They charge 3 Euro to board first. They try to sell you newspapers, drinks, and scratch-card lottery games on board. They have eliminated the pocket on the seat-backs to make it more efficient to clean the planes. The safety card is permanently attached to the seat in front of you, so they never need to replace ripped or stolen copies of it. They sell advertising billboard space on the overhead luggage bins and audio commercials that air as you board and de-board. The whole Ryan Air experience is straight out of the movie Idiocracy.

Is this the direction our domestic airlines are heading? People have compared Ryan Air to Southwest, but even Southwest doesn't nickel-and-dime you while pushing advertising at you the way Ryan Air does.

The difference, of course, is that our Ryan Air tickets cost 3 euro plus airport fees, which came to less than the cost of parking our car at Dublin Airport for the day we were in Scotland. For tickets that cheap, we don't expect pampering.

But neither Southwest nor American Airlines is a Ryan Air. They both charge hundreds of dollars where Ryan Air charges 3 euro, and for this higher ticket price we expect a higher class of service.

I sure hope we can maintain this higher class of service. Let's help the airlines recover by building the economic infrastructure that makes it possible for them to succeed. Let's put together a work-able energy policy that frees us from the growing power of oil-rich nations like Iran, Venezuela, and Russia. Let's keep the demand for oil down by driving more fuel-efficient cars, by working at home more often, by living closer to work, by taking public transit, by investing in "green tech." What's good for the planet is good for America, and good for consumers. Vote Democrat this November.

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