2010 was a very good year for the airline industry. They made grand strides -- finessing and sticking creative fees to consumers for innumerable services that used to be free. What a ludicrous notion it is, that when you call to buy an airline ticket, you have to pay a fee for the privilege of giving them your money.
Airlines are basically charging you twice. They charge you once for the price of the ticket and then they whack you with a transaction fee to process the payment. Then, when you show up at the airline counter, some charge you a fee for checking in, in person.
Gone are the days of customer service with a smile (without a few bucks). It's a Fee Frenzy out there. There are fees for everything, and while some are worth it, others are an obnoxious way for the airlines to pick your pocket.
This is the untold reason why American Airlines, Expedia, Travelocity and other booking sites struck up their recent bitter feud.
It's all about the money: Stupid!
American thinks Expedia, and the others, aren't charging enough for services that -- instead of being an imperative part of the booking experience -- are now extras: Extras like a fee to pick your seat -- exit row or bulkhead -- carry-on bags, make a reservation on the phone, or board first, the list goes on.
Airlines don't want flyers to comparison shop. They want their prices to be opaque... unknowable to the average person.
Senator Chuck Schumer was so incensed by a recent $45 carry-on bag charge by Spirit Airlines that he personally secured a promise from the five biggest U.S. airlines to forsake such charges.
Rumor has it there are more bizarre fees that aren't far from materialization, like Ryan Air's purported tinkle toll. "It's not because we need to generate money from the jacks. But...if you get rid of two [toilets] you can get six more seats on a 737. They will all be scurrying to the toilet before the departure gate," As Ryanair's CEO, Michael O'Leary told the UK based Guardian newspaper.
US Airways might have lost money this year if it wasn't for fees, reported the Baltimore Sun.
In 2009, the airline industry raked in some $7.8 billion in fees, up 42 percent from the year before; and the 2010 numbers are expected to be much higher than that. The trend -- started in 2008 with baggage fees -- has become varied and superfluous, reaching new lows by adding fees to pick your seat, use a pillow or blanket, or to be the first in coach class to board and de-board.
If history is any guide, the creativity with which airlines dream up and apply fees will surely escalate. What next? Will there be a fee to call the flight attendant? How about a $5 fee to lean your seat back, or a $20 fee to guarantee that there are no crying babies within ten rows. Or the airlines could charge an advance fee, like insurance, to use the oxygen masks or life vests if -- God forbid -- the need arises?
How about a fee to ask a question about fees? How much will it cost to sleep in a chair overnight in the terminal, if the plane is delayed? How much less will they charge you to sleep on the floor? How much will it cost to request a wheelchair at the gate? Will you ever have to pay a higher fuel surcharge if you weigh too much? What about a fee to check your coat, and then a requirement to check your coat?
Hotels have gotten into the act. At the Atlantis in the Bahamas guests are required to pay a mandatory housekeeping gratuity and utility service fee of up to $22.95 per person, per day. Yikes!
The concept of charging fees -- paying to pay -- originated with mortgage companies, banks, utility companies, and phone companies that charge customers from $2- $24 to pay over the phone or online.
How far will the fee frenzy spread?
Years ago, I remember a story about a Bloomingdale's bookkeeper who managed to pad the monthly bills of thousands of customers by a few pennies at a time. Nobody noticed. It went on for 10 years and not one customer complained. Who would bother about nine cents extra? He managed to siphon off several hundred thousand dollars to his own accounts. He was exposed when a fellow employee noticed how much he was spending and how well he was living.
It's like that with the airlines. Who wants to complain about a small booking fee or a two dollar pillow fee? But it's a kind of sneaky theft all the same.
The airlines claim that unbundling costs will be good for the flyer and general public: you only have to pay a-la-carte for what you want.
But come on guys, when is someone going to realize that a phone-booking fee, otherwise called a "convenience fee," is just another fancy term for paying to have your money taken away?