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Increased Airline Fees and Reduced Service Are Chintzy: Wouldn't it Be Less Annoying and Would Anyone Really Notice if They Just Raised Their Fares a Little?

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I do a fair amount of traveling and have increasingly been piqued at the nickel and diming of services to which airline passengers have long been accustomed.

I'll be the first to admit that in most aspects of our society such as housing (mortgage or rent), groceries, theatre and movie tickets and of course gasoline, amounts have risen greatly over the years. A few exceptions are long distance telephone calls, home technology (computers and TVs) and airline travel, the costs of which have actually gone down in comparison to our other expenses, both in real terms as well as purchasing power.

So, I'm not horrified having to pay $1,000 to go to Europe on a coach ticket, as opposed to $500-$600, which I might have paid a few years ago. And I'm also aware that the costs of our airline friends have gone way up due to the surge in gasoline prices, which affect us all.

However, unlike most things we consume airline prices are always in flux and are not so different from the up and down fluctuation of the stock market. Indeed, you could be sitting next to someone in coach who paid double or half what you paid. Since this continually occurs and is happening even during this fuel crisis, wouldn't it be simpler to just raise the price a few dollars or even fifty from time to time if it's determined that certain factors such as luggage or meal service have diminished their profits?

Why on earth take away what we've become accustomed to and instead ask us to fly essentially in an a la carte manner, picking and choosing what we need, as if checking luggage was a luxury or having a meal on a long flight was not a necessity?

How much does it cost the airlines to serve a slightly better than average TV dinner -- a meal that was declining to the extent that in coach service it mostly consisted of a small entree, a little lettuce and a cookie that substituted for dessert? I can't imagine that that meal, bought in bulk, would cost more than five dollars. And if it does, and if the airlines are hurting, would anyone really notice the fares had risen accordingly if they passed the five dollars through to us?

The same with baggage. If fuel costs caused them to charge for the second domestic bag -- and in the case of American, United and U.S. Air they will be charging fifteen for the first suitcase -- then just factor that into the price. Or maybe a little less because many people -- especially the business variety -- often just take along a carry-on.

By openly charging for luggage it encourages more carry-on baggage, which will cause even more nightmares than currently exist. However, if things reverted back to the way they were, and the costs were absorbed by the price itself it would be a win-win, because airlines would not lose money and passengers would not feel screwed.

Folks, airline travel has been akin to riding the bus for a long time. And with the lack of meal service, more people bring their smelly sandwiches and salads onto flights, which sit festering in their seat pouches until desired. Then, people stand in the aisles chatting with friends unaware or unconcerned that their rears are situated next to a poor passenger's face. With this added Mickey Mouse decline of service airlines are truly an affront to the transportation industry. They are also unfair and unequal in the manner they display their indifference.

They charge a fee to use their telephone agents, and even more if you're at the airport. But in certain instances it's impossible to book online, and since they're responsible for the maintenance of their web addresses they should pay for their inadequacies.

For example, if you want to get an award ticket to Europe, you can't choose a multi-city flight on United Airlines and American Airlines so that one might have a stopover -- e.g. in New York on the way back from London -- which is a key benefit of the award tickets.

You must use an American Airlines or United Airlines agent and pay $20-$25 respectively, even though you've done the research and have the flight numbers. Their website is not set up to do so. You can't even pay for a simple round trip award ticket on United if it involves their partner airlines.

Interestingly, Delta Airlines' website allows multi-city awards, and if you're having trouble booking a flight to a city an agent will build the trip, then reserve it and allow you to pay for it on line without their $25 agent cost. If you ask United or American to do that, they will reserve it, and you can look at the reservation on line, but you're unable to pay for it there. No, they insist you call the ticket agent to do so, because they want that cash for what was formerly free. Plus, on June 21 American will begin charging five dollars when you book an award ticket online.

And excess baggage weight, once winked at by airport personnel, now costs $100 on a United domestic flight -- even if just a pound over. I was three pounds over coming back from Rapid City and had to keep pulling stuff from my bags and weighing the contents until the airline clerk let it go at 50.5 pounds. On an international flight, the excess cost is only $50 for the same overage. American charges $50 for domestic and international, whereas Delta charges $80.

This encourages international travelers to take two bags (still free) instead of one, just to play it safe if you go a little over if you happen to buy a few souvenirs.

When I complained about this -- in particular the website problems -- to an American Airlines clerk, she snapped that Delta had gone through bankruptcy, whereas American had been paying its bills throughout the years. What this had to do with the inadequacy of their website and the flexibility Delta offered was beyond me. What it demonstrated was that, in addition to everything else mentioned above, airline customer service is a misnomer, as it often can't be called that anymore.