It should come as no shock that I love almost every aspect of travel. I love killing time in airports, watching people scurry past with their Cinnabon purchases in hand and browsing magazine selections at the CNBC Newsstand. Even though I have an unabashed love affair with the hospitality industry, lately I have been sensing some waves of animosity in our relationship.
In a series of three posts over the next few weeks, I am going to examine some of the disruptions in the relationship between traveler and hospitality provider. Rather than just rant, which I promise I will do, I will also look at some solutions from BOTH sides at how to make our relationship a more healthy one. We can’t divorce – it’s too late for that now, but we have to do something to ensure a long and happy future together.
Everyone complains about the airlines and they probably always have. I can just imagine passengers in the “golden age” of flight turning to their seatmate lamenting the poor quality of china onboard the aircraft. It all comes down to one’s expectations and the airlines have done a masterful job of lowering them over the past couple of decades.
Even if you take into account the fact that the airlines have never and will never be able to catch a public relations break, it seems of late that they have been lashing out at the very people who make their companies viable.
The airlines have been poking the flying public in the eyes a lot lately, especially when it comes to their unholy addiction to fees.
I understand the fact that the airlines exist on a slim profit margin and respect the fact that the have to make money. I am a capitalist and understand economics – yay money. And unlike a lot of other people, I have never expected the airlines to transport me to my destinations free of charge. However, what I do expect is a little financial respect when it comes to pricing.
Recently, I booked a flight to Florida for a long weekend escape. Like all travelers, I was instantly met with a plethora of booking options on everything from super discount carriers to the most entrenched legacy lines. In order to find the best route at the best price, I had to enter into a series of quantum and hypothetical mathematics in order to divine the mysterious algorithm that would transport me from Washington, D.C. to Jacksonville, Florida. No longer simply a matter of going to Expedia and plugging in one’s preferred travel dates, due to the ever expanding variety of fees a whole new method of searching flights has been born.
I had to make a list (on real paper nonetheless) of baggage fees, BOARDING fees (ugh), restrictions, etc. At first blush I thought I had quickly and painlessly found the perfect flight. It was only cheap though if I didn’t take into consideration the $150 extra we would have to pay in baggage fees. After this initial setback, I realized that my search would not be an easy one and I began a lengthy process of differentiating between the remaining airlines’ fees and route schedules. Just as a reminder, I wasn’t trying to find the easiest way to Ulan Bator, all I wanted was to transport two people, two bags and a set of golf club two hours down the Eastern seaboard.
After spending more time than I’d like to admit to, and with the aid of tarot cards, coin flipping and dart throwing, I finally found what I HOPED was the cheapest option. But even then I was not completely satisfied that I was not overlooking a hidden fee.
I love to fly, I travel a lot and always book my own airfare. However, it’s not usually with checked bags and certainly not with golf clubs. When confronted with booking airfare the same way any family embarking on a vacation would have to, I was stymied. The virtual morass of fees, hidden and not, were absolutely daunting and I can only shudder to think what the average tourist must go through. What probably happens to these poor souls is that in their attempt to save money and book the cheapest airfare they can find, they end up getting financially molested at the airport.
Is this any way to treat the people who ensure the sustainability of the airlines? To trick them into forcibly donating more of their hard earned coin? I know the airlines don’t want to hear this, but fees MUST be folded into ticket prices. They just have to. New ones are added daily, everything from exit row seating to blankets, and it has frankly become too much to handle. So dear airlines, you all need to meet at some posh resort and settle upon an industry-wide standard where all of your cute little fees are included in the main ticket price.
I realize this will never happen, but it would truly be in the airlines’ best interest to make air travel as painless and easy an experience as possible. The average person, I have to constantly remind myself, does not travel all that often. In fact most of them are scared to even attempt it, in large part due to some of these monetary shenanigans. The airlines absolutely must encourage people to travel more often, not less, and making the ticketing/fee process easy to understand and affordable is the first, best thing they can do to achieve this goal.
I don’t want this to be a post picking on the airlines. There is plenty of culpability on behalf of the flying public. Ultimately, our quest for the cheapest ticket at any cost drove the airlines to take the route of fees. In days of old, people would pick flights based on airline allegiance, comfort and route. Now people are willing to live through the inconvenience of 2 inch seat pitch and 4 connections to save $30.
The genie is out of the bottle and I doubt there is a way to convince most of the flying people to stop choosing the lowest common denominator. But this method of travel is not sustainable and I would surmise that we will see a bit of a return to some flying comforts in the not-too-distant future. Some airlines, such as Southwest and Virgin, have realized this and have made profits while simultaneously treating the flying public well. Novel concept.