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Airline Watch: It Just Keeps Getting Worse

John Deiner

Fees for pretzels, checked bags, diet Coke . . . the cutbacks and new tariffs levied by airlines have been rampant in this grim travel season.

Now comes word that United will be laying off about 950 pilots, or 15 percent of the total. According to a story in today's Post, it's the biggest such reduction since 9/11. It's the second attempt to trim costs at United in a month, which had already announced plans to reduce its flight schedule, ground jets and trim white-collar jobs. The airline, if you remember, was also the first one to charge for a second checked bag.

And in case you missed it, the airline last week announced that it was reinstating the overnight-stay rule for its cheapest fares.

According to the AP story, "Starting Oct. 6, most of United's economy-class fares will require a one- to three-night or weekend-night minimum stay. . . . The policy does not apply to fliers in other classes. The new rules are bound to be unpopular with business travelers who prefer to catch a flight out early in the morning and be back home in time for dinner."

So what to make of all this? Clearly the cuts aren't over, and flying isn't about to get any easier -- or less crowded. I haven't flown in a couple of months and have no plans to fly at the moment, but I'm dreading what I'll find when I get back to the airport.

Any reports out there from life in the (un)friendly skies these days?

By John Deiner |  June 24, 2008; 10:56 AM ET  | Category:  John Deiner
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What's next, are they going to make us fly the plane? Self-service baggage handling? Pay toilets?

Posted by: M Street | June 24, 2008 11:09 AM

Where are the passenger rights advocates? Why are we letting the airlines nickel and dime us to death? They need to fly at capacity so they are charging more and for everything...hmm.

Posted by: Deb | June 24, 2008 11:26 AM

At least with self-service baggage handling your bag will be more likely to show up.

All kidding aside, I wonder if the airlines understand how these fees (on top of high fares) and new rules are going to affect their bottom line. Some people are going to avoid certain airlines.

I don't mind paying extra if I feel I'm getting something better for it. The differential between economy and business class is still way too high for me to switch to it.

Posted by: Tanya | June 24, 2008 11:52 AM

I think the issue has become that Americans view flying on a plane as an entitlement, not a privilege. We have grown so accustomed to hopping on a plane and flying to our destination (for relatively cheap), versus considering other travel options. If you don't like United's fees, then don't fly United. If you don't like the airline industry, then drive, take the train, hop on a ferry, or just stay home. Eventually the industry will correct itself - it always has. In the meantime, look for other options - even though they might not be the most convenient.

Posted by: NoFlyZone | June 24, 2008 12:20 PM

I think we just have to suck it up or find alternatives. The airlines are corporations, not non-profits.

Posted by: kbockl | June 24, 2008 12:26 PM

I think the issue has become that Americans view flying on a plane as an entitlement, not a privilege. We have grown so accustomed to hopping on a plane and flying to our destination (for relatively cheap), versus considering other travel options. If you don't like United's fees, then don't fly United. If you don't like the airline industry, then drive, take the train, hop on a ferry, or just stay home.

Posted by: NoFlyZone | June 24, 2008 12:20 PM
-------------

It's a great theory but the reality is that given the size of our country, there is usually no other option except to fly.

Of course I'm probably weird because I don't have a problem with all the fees, as long as they are clearly disclosed at the time you buy your tickets.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 24, 2008 3:31 PM

I'm an airline pilot and have been for 25 years. In that time, I've seen fares fall and the cost of business go up. Passengers demand to be given everything, yet want to pay next to nothing. One comment was correct; you do think of air travel as a right.

Bottom line...you have been unwilling to pay a fair price for years for the service and the net result is that the airlines have no more places to go find money to pay for your demands. I and my fellow pilots average 15-20 days a month on the road away from our families, must pass 2 FAA checkrides and physicals a year or face the loss of our careers. And then we're expected to give up our salaries and hard earned retirements so you can fly cheap. Sorry. Take that $229.00 you spent on a round trip ticket to the West Coast and drive your car...see how far you get.

Jet fuel isn't cheap...nor are new airplanes. And we're not willing to subsidize your stinginess anymore.

Maybe we DO need to go back to re-regulation. The airlines would be required to set pricing so they could survive and maintain their fleets. And if you can't afford your many vacations a year, you'll learn to enjoy your backyard or local vacation sites.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 24, 2008 3:45 PM

In response to the pilot's comments:
"The airlines would be required to set pricing so they could survive and maintain their fleets."

Shouldn't that be how the airlines run their business in the first place? It is not the fault of the public that the airlines have been charging less than what it takes to operate their business. What exactly did they think would happen by constantly cutting prices?

I'd rather be charged a realistic price for the actual airline ticket then get all of these little fees tacked on for luggage and food.

Air travel isn't a right or a privledge, it's just another mode of transportation. Just like driving a car, riding the bus or taking a train, if you have the money you can choose whatever mode of transportation you wish. The airlines should just be honest about what it costs them to provide this transportation.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 24, 2008 4:09 PM

"Passengers demand to be given everything, yet want to pay next to nothing."

Like a seat we actually fit in? Or safely maintained planes? Or stewardesses that aren't full of attitude? Or flights that get to their destination on time? Or baggage that shows up in one piece (or at all?)

Don't blame consumers for the mess the airlines are in. The sad fact is that it's one of the worst managed industries in the world, and it also suffers from excessive unionization. And that's coming from someone who is generally extremely pro-union!

Posted by: Liz | June 24, 2008 4:29 PM

"Passengers demand to be given everything, yet want to pay next to nothing."

Like a seat we actually fit in? Or safely maintained planes? Or stewardesses that aren't full of attitude? Or flights that get to their destination on time? Or baggage that shows up in one piece (or at all?)

Don't blame consumers for the mess the airlines are in. The sad fact is that it's one of the worst managed industries in the world, and it also suffers from excessive unionization. And that's coming from someone who is generally extremely pro-union!

Posted by: Liz | June 24, 2008 4:29 PM

The airlines have discovered they are a business, not a cheap taxi service. Next they need to discover that they mismanage their businesses.

If fuel stays up where it is, figure that we may see a 30% reduction in air travelers, and the tickets will be priced where they should have been a long time ago.

Hope the rail companies upgrade their track beds so Amtrak can handle the extra people it will see-soon.

Posted by: Mike | June 24, 2008 4:57 PM

How about the Government checkpoints forcing citizens to show ID for intra-state travel. It doesn't improve security and wastes a lot of time. Since this process wouldn't even have caught the 9-11 terrorists, it is confusing to see how it makes anyone safer.

Posted by: NoClu | June 24, 2008 6:00 PM

Airlines have become nothing more than another Greyhound for getting around. Either we get used to that, accepting that various bus lines, like airlines, have come and gone out of business over the years, or we pay for better service.

Personally, I believe it's high time for consumers to pay for better air service. Business air travel in particular has been demolished by the overbooking, poor ontime performance, etc. And there are just too many things that can not be done with the alternative of business-quality audio & video conferencing. As a frequent business traveler, I have no problems with tickets costing 2x or 3x current economy coach prices. First class travel essentially doesn't exist domestically so it's coach for all. I waste so much in the extra waiting in airports already that 3x may be the best bargain around.

Posted by: flown-for-too-many-years | June 24, 2008 6:42 PM

I've spent a fair bit of time in airports over the past
few months (flown about 30K miles in the past 6 weeks).
I'm a gold/platinum elite flier, which means a lot of service issues go away
for me (often upgraded for free, no charge on baggage, priority
lines at security). So I am mostly seeing things looking normal.
I assume this is a strong attempt to keep fliers like me happy.

Things I have noticed -- ground staff is being pushed hard.
Multiple cases of not having ground staff to guide plane to gate,
such that you land and then there are delays. Some gate
attendants are looking overwhelmed and angry -- conversely,
some are being wonderful -- I've had super positive experiences
with folks in Boston and San Francisco over the past three
weeks -- in Boston, my flight had a mechanical failure during
takeoff, so we had to taxi back to the gate and the flight was
cancelled -- attendants at every gate made room in their lines for
people trying to rebook their travel (you just stood in line with the
people whose flight was leaving at that gate and when you got to
the front they helped -- so rather than being stuck in one line with one
harried attendant, you could pick the line that looked shortest and
distribute load).

Posted by: freq flier | June 24, 2008 6:51 PM

I don't understand how the airlines can cry poor when their CEOs make such obscene salaries. Maybe their companies would be able to handle the rising fuel costs if those guys took a pay cut to a somewhat more reasonable salary.

Posted by: A | June 24, 2008 7:27 PM

Once upon a time airlines were regulated by a federal agency. They had to gain approval of fares and fare changes in advance of imposing them. Standard for approval was fair return on investment. (Utilities used to be regulated this way, too.

Then came the era of free market idealism, Free market is just a new phrase for laissez-faire economics. Laissez faire economics plus natural disaster like drought brought on the Great Depression.

Funny thing is that on the way to free market idealism somethings just got out of control (again!) and the airlines are scrambling to cover costs by raising fares and adding various fees and charges for baggage, liquids, and soon, for access to the bathroom. Proposed fees for bathroom use are likely to be $5 to wash=up at the end of a long flight, $8 to urinate and $15 to defecate.

Wouldn't it be better to return the regulatory days and end the chaos.

I really think urinating in the bathroom is better than in my pants. Bathrooms should be free and so should baggage and non-alcholic drinks.


Posted by: Peter | June 24, 2008 11:21 PM

I know how much fuel costs nowadays, don't the complainers know?

Except for the exhorbitant salaries paid to airline CEos, I'm with the airlines all the way. Personally, I'm a big fan of American Airlines and I'll do anything I can to help it keep flying.

Posted by: MariAngela | June 25, 2008 12:48 AM

just raise the prices by $200 or more per ticket instead of nickel and diming us to death. i'd appreciate that more than the current approach, which is maddening.

Posted by: frieda406 | June 25, 2008 12:50 AM

I would much prefer a raise in ticket price------to cover the cost of gas, instead of all of these nickle/dime stuff.

I know tickets are going up, but, let them go up more and forget all these new extra fees for this and that. Gas is the bottom line in the problem. How much loose change and small bills do we need to carry to just exist?

Posted by: Channah | June 25, 2008 10:37 AM

I feel sorry for the airlines. Let them make a profit...raise or lower prices as their costs fluctuate. I was a Navy pilot flying transports. If they need
help they can call me.

Posted by: ArthurMirkin | June 25, 2008 12:12 PM

I feel sorry that airlines have priced themselves into a corner.

They've made their hangars, now let them rust in them.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 25, 2008 1:51 PM

We all know that fuel is going up, but I have a feeling that the airlines are using this as an excuse. Look at American Airlines. The bonuses their top executives receive are obscene. American has spent years and untold amounts of money trying to destroy any airline that gives them competition in the Dallas/Arlington/Ft.Worth area. In my opinion they are a very poorly run airline and I do object to there charging for the first bag that a passenger checks.
American is still getting preferential treatment in the DFW area with parts of the Wright amendment still in force.
Whenever possible I fly Southwest when I travel.

Posted by: dan | June 26, 2008 9:50 AM

I recently flew from Rome to the U.S. It was was absolutely the worst flight ever. It was so crowded with a group of mostly young and very boisterous Italian men seemingly partying on the plane. There was drinking and standing,moving about in the aisles making it difficult for anyone atempting to get to the restroom. Some of the passengers complained after this went on for hours without any of the crew members doing anything. Finally, they were told by someone to tone it down as well sitting down. I never will fly that airline again.

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