Dec '08

An Open Letter To The Airline Industry

Dear Airline Executives,

As a frequent flyer, who has averaged over 200000 flown miles every year since 1998, I have a vested interest in your survival as an industry. I completely understand your need for revenue – however a few recent developments have caused me to question not only the wisdom of your decisions, but also whether or not the people making the decisions have actually flown in the last seven years.

I completely understand that things like water and soft drinks aren’t free for you, but I also know that you get some sweet deals in terms of pricing on these items in return for announcing that “your airline is proud to serve soda X”. I also know that I just paid a hefty price for this ticket. So, it’s a bit ridiculous to ask me to pay $2 for a bottle of water that cost you $.35. Buying onboard food – fine, if I want other food I can bring it from home. Keep charging the $5 for beer and wine too – but don’t rape me for something that was free a few months ago back when fuel prices were, hmm, exactly where they are again now! And especially when that particular item can’t be brought through security anymore.

But even more troubling is the new baggage insanity fee. Again, I’m all for making money – but in a smart and equitable way. Your recent requirement to pay $15-25 for a checked bag has done nothing but cause passengers to attempt to stuff their entire apartment into a roll-aboard and backpack (neither of which can fit into the overhead bin without using a crowbar and personal lubricant). The result is that bins are completely full before even half of the passengers have boarded – a process which is also slowed because of the time needed to wedge all of the oversized duffelbags into the minimal space available. And then your flight crew gets to waste even more time checking the rest of the carry-ons in the gangway – for free!!! I’ve even heard passengers giving each other tips about this very thing!

Let’s get real – there are two far more intelligent solutions to this problem. Feel free to chose either one…

First, charge a carry-on fee instead of a checked bag fee. Charge the same $15-25 for any bag larger than a standard computer backpack or briefcase size. Upon paying, issue a bag tag that is attached to the bag in order to bring it onboard. It’s far less time-consuming for a gate agent or flight attendant to glance at the rollaboards being brought on than to fill out 20 or 30 luggage tags for bags that can’t find an overhead bin space.

Not only would this free up bin space, thereby alleviating the major bottleneck in the boarding process, it also ensures that the majority of bags go through more rigorous inspection than that afforded at most checkpoints – helping to keep us all safer.

Now if you don’t like that idea, how about just tacking on the stupid $15 to the price of every ticket as a fuel surcharge? That is the reason that you’ve said you needed to add the baggage fee, isn’t it? So let’s be fair and make everyone shoulder the burden of the higher fuel costs. We’re all getting on the plane – why does my checked bag cost more in the cargo hold than the one in the overhead bin? And don’t tell me it’s a matter of weight – you already have weight restrictions – and you are able to distribute the weight in the cargo hold much more effectively than you can in the cabin. And a fuel surcharge could actually be decreased or even recended as fuel prices decrease (as if you’d ever actually do that…).

The bottom line is that we all know the economy sucks – but I also know that every plane I get on is packed to the gills. We all want you to survive and even to turn a profit, but nickel and dimeing us in a way that makes the entire traveling experience even more of a headache is the quickest way to lose any goodwill that you might still have following 9/11. And, yes I know, as a frequent flyer I am not subject to the bag fees – but I do still have to get on the plane in a timely manner. And when I can’t manage to be one of the first ones on the plane I still need to find room for my bag. Think about it – or better yet make your executive fly coach (in a middle seat) on six flights this week. I bet we’d see a lot of changes come next week. ;-)


P.S. To my readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ideas – or any of your own airline stories. Comment away!


5 Responses to “An Open Letter To The Airline Industry”

  1. Sherry Says:

    Hi Greg,

    Should your salutation read: Dear American-based Airline Executives? I only fly Lufthansa or Berlin Air (or some other European airline, when I can). For the former, I was offered wine on a EUR flight to Budapest. I inquired what the charge was and the attendant responded: “Charge? Nothing, my dear. This is Lufthansa.” I don’t know if this is pervasive amongst all non-American airlines and it does seem that Lufthansa is in the minority of airlines making a profit.

    But, I do get your frustration. I would be livid at the inconvenience as well. It’s bad marketing really. Americans love free shit and come to expect it. $15 surcharge? Phuck dat! But if they wrapped that charge into the price of the ticket, no one would be none the wiser and this would be a non-issue.

    It’s almost as if they are encouraging stuffing carry-on luggage in the overhead bins. Why? What does this gain? Would it not be smarter to slyly increase the ticket fee to accommodate the need for more revenue?


  2. Rob Huddleston Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I had to fly to North Carolina this week. I was flying USAir, which I suspect you’re fairly familiar with … and yeah, I couldn’t believe the nickel-and-diming. $15 to check my bag. $2 for a soda, $7 for a freaking snadwich. Plus, they now have the fun bit that you get to pay extra for a decent seat as well. Don’t want to be crammed into a middle seat in the rear of the plane? That’ll be $10, please. (Thanks to the person at the company I’m contracting with not paying attention, I had all of 25 minutes to switch planes in Phoenix, so I really felt I had no choice but to “buy” a decent seat up front in the plane.) And of course, that charge is per leg of the flight. I’ll get to repeat all those charges on the way home, so in reality, I’m paying at least $50 more for the flight than the actual advertised fare, and that doesn’t include the food (which again, I didn’t have a lot of choice on since I wasn’t going to have time in Phoenix to get something for the much longer PHX-CLT flight.)
    And here’s the kicker: thanks to the new boarding policies where they load the window seats first, then the middles, then the aisles, those who pay extra to sit in the aisle for rewarded for paying more to get on the plane by being in that group that gets on after the overhead bins are full!
    All of this is why, when I make my own reservations and when I’m flying somewhere they go, I go with Southwest. They’re at least up front: no baggage fees, no food. You pay extra for your ticket to get the privilege of getting on board first, but that’s OK because it’s an upfront, one-time charge and you’re assured that you’ll not only get the seat you want but that you’ll also have space overhead. And they throw in a drink (even alcohol), too.
    I like both of your ideas: charge for the carry-on instead (which in addition to the points you make will also speed up security) and just be honest and tack a fee onto the actual fare, for everyone.

  3. Cheryl Says:

    You make some great points here. Executives don’t always think through the ramifications of their decisions, unfortunately — or maybe they just underestimated the lengths people will go to in order to save $15 – 25. I’m sure they also failed to consider that asking their passengers to pay for every soft drink and bottle of water just adds to the burden of the flight crew… not to mention adding theft risk, when you consider how much cash would pile up after a full day of flying. Personally, I say tack an extra $2 onto the ticket price and give the drinks for free; it’s not enough price change to discourage anyone from flying, and it would certainly save a lot of extra effort. (Not to mention hard feelings.)

  4. Mordy Golding Says:

    I feel your pain. But there’s no simple solution. For someone who flies as much as you do, there’s only one answer — Adobe needs to get you a Gulfstream IV. Oh, and when that happens, you can take me with you :)

  5. Moodster Says:

    One major “gotcha” about bag check charges:

    with 3oz rule on carry-on I am forced to check a bag for any liquid over 3oz. So, even with a tiny bag I can’t, for example, buy a bottle of wine while on a day trip to Cali unless I want to check my bags.

    How is it ethical to enforce a $20 bag check charge for something that is essentially beyond my control?

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