The future of airline fee structures

Published 2:48 pm Saturday, July 18, 2009

It was interesting last week to see how many of you identified with my wife’s distress over having to try and wade through the maze of the computerized customer service machine used by the big computer company that built the machine she uses at work every day.

Many, many of you apparently have shared that frustration, though perhaps not with a computer manufacturer.

About the time Sherry was wading through that swamp, she also began making her way through an entirely different one.

She is going to fly to Mississippi next week to visit her mother, kids and grandkids.

Firing up her at-home computer one night, she shopped diligently and found what she considered a reasonable fare, with the only potential disadvantage being that she will have to fly out of Norfolk rather than out of Greenville. (It will be our first trip to the Norfolk airport; we know Greenville is an easy trip.)

I don’t remember exactly, but I think the fare she settled on was about $120.

When she told me that, I wondered rhetorically if that included all of the “optional” charges the airlines have implemented of late.

I don’t fly anymore. After a couple of bad experiences – bad customer service experiences; I’ve never been on one that crashed or anything – I declared that I would do all that I could do to put them out of business. So far all I’ve come up with is to deprive them of the fares for the trip or two I used to make every year or so.

But I read the papers and watch the news, so I know they’ve come up with new ways to offer us relatively attractive fares and then get a little deeper into our pockets later.

Once upon a time, when you bought a ticket, it included your luggage. No more. If you’re lucky, you might get on with one bag today. But if you’re taking two, count on paying an extra $15 or $20 when you get to the airport. And in some cases, you’ll pay that for that first one, too.

Also – back in the “good old days” – if you were on the plane for more than 45 minutes or an hour, you got a meal. And, generally speaking, the meals weren’t bad. Today, if you’re lucky, you get a tiny bag of peanuts and a shot glass of water.

The seats have gotten smaller – narrower and closer together – over the years, too.

The handwriting is on the wall. The direction all this is going is clear.

Soon, when you take your bag to check in for your flight, you will be given a menu and you’ll choose the services you desire. Here’s what I foresee being included on that menu:

Ramp fee (if you want to use the airline’s stairs or ramp to actually enter the airplane), $5;

Pilot experience fee, varies, depending on days spent in training, number of previous crashes, etc.

Seat fee (if you want to sit while en route), $10;

Seat belt fee (required), $10;

Peanut fee (if you want peanuts while in flight), $1 (per nut);

Water fee (if you want a drink of it while in flight), $1 (per shot glass, ice extra);

Cold drink fee (if you’d like a Coke or a 7-Up while in flight), $15 (per glass, 3 glasses per can, ice extra);

Serious drink fee (if you’d like something alcoholic while in flight), $27.50 (ice extra);

Pillow fee (if you’d like one of those teeny things airlines call pillows while in flight), $12;

Blanket fee, $12.50;

Bathroom fee, negotiable, depending on how badly you need to go;

Disembarkment fee (if you would like to leave the plane at your destination), $42.

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.