Airline travel has changed. After a few recent flights on a unnamed carrier, I ran across this news article which sums it up…
Airline passengers were recently surprised to board their plane only to be charged a “seating fee” before being allowed to sit down and buckle up. The queue backed up into the jetway while passengers stood in the aisles straddling their carry-ons, digging in their pockets for change to pay the flight attendants who pointed out the fine print on the boarding passes with cheerfully insincere smiles.
Travelers have always been charged for phone service, and more recently, alcoholic beverages. Now they are getting used to having to pay for food, although the constant, under-the-breath grumbling has not stopped. But now that Facebook has bought out the major airlines, things have taken a decided turn for the worse. In a move which parallels Facebook’s nickel-and-dime charges for apps such as Farmville and Poker, airlines have turned up the air conditioning as a way to sell more “souvenir” blankets. Drinking water will be provided for a modest fee. Coffee will no longer be free. There will now be a charge for coffee and tea, and sugar and cream will be extra, of course. Airline representatives tell us that “in an effort to keep ticket prices down,” fees will be charged for an ever-increasing number of what they are calling “optional services,” that is, anything which is “not directly related to conveyance to the scheduled destination.” For example, United Airlines was the first to install pay toilets, with American, Lufthansa and others soon to follow suit. Inside the newly updated restrooms, tissue, water and soap will be sold at a per-square and per-ounce rate, respectively.
Changes will be noted in the cabin, as well. Reading lights, tray tables, and the ability to recline the seat will be accessed through a coordinated coin-operated system with a convenient debit/credit card slot (since a pocketful of coins will set off the alarms at the airport security checks). Competition is fierce. In a flurry of public relations announcements, the airlines are staging a marketing battle over who will be known for providing the least-horrible service at the least exhorbitant price. In fact, many airlines have already announced that bargain-hungry passengers can swipe their credit card and select an all-inclusive “savers package” which will include unlimited use of the reading light, 3 lowerings of the tray table, 2 opportunities to recline the seat plus a bonus feature of being able to unbuckle the seat belt an unlimited number of times for no additional charge.
Consumers’ groups are in an outrage over the new policies and are organizing protests and activism to strike back at the airlines. For example, passengers are being advised to carry no small bills and to use only $1,000 bills when purchasing meals and duty-free items, and to request numerous repeats of the seat belt demonstration, asking that it be done “more slowly” with more detailed explanation of the complex, arcane procedure.
Labor unions such as H.E.R.E. (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees) in the hospitality industry are showing solidarity with airline passenger consumer groups by implementing new charging schemes for the hotels where pilots and flight attendants normally stay. Airlines will still be given their special group rates, with the following changes: restaurants will dump the food in the pilots’ laps unless a supplementary “plating fee” is paid (actual cooking of the food will, of course, involve an additional fee—see the fine print at the bottom of the menu); sheets and blankets will no longer be provided for free; TVs, toilets and showers will now be coin-operated.
Other solutions are being proposed for cost-weary travelers. One frequent flyer recently discovered that it would be cheaper (and a lot more comfortable) to simply charter the whole plane and have it towed down the interstate, while lying down on the floor, stopping for food at truck stops with adequate turn-around space.
There are also hopeful signs. One innovative airline recently proposed a scheme where a simple one-price purchase of a ticket included food, drink, restrooms, reasonable comfort and in flight customer service for no additional charge. No one is quite sure what to think of this radical plan.
And of course, we’re all still anxiously waiting for the first airline to provide comfortable, pressurized space in the cargo hold for noisy babies and toddlers.