Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Airlines and their fees...

A few weeks ago, American Airlines decided that a good way to boost its revenues would be to charge $15 for a checked bag. Last week, U.S. Airways and United decided to follow suit. Continental is apparently watching and waiting to see how it goes over with passengers.

I'm opposed to baggage fees for a single bag. Three bags? Okay, you're pushing it. Even two and I'm sympathetic, because the weight does all to the cost. But flying is transportation, and travel means bringing luggage. Whatever the bottom-line cost of an airline ticket, that price should be definition include the right to bring a bag--especially since all that this fee does is encourage people to overpack their carry-on bags, which in turn makes it take longer to board and depart the aircraft, which costs the airlines money in flight delays.

Now, regular readers will recognize that Continental is my favorite domestic airline, and with good reason. Coach passengers still get meals. There are pillows and blankets readily available. Service is the best among U.S. legacy carriers. And why? Because Continental didn't dump its pension plan. Because, when facing the immense burden of fuel costs and the need to lay off 3000 employees, CEO Larry Kellner decided to forego his salary and other compensation to show that he feels the pain too. Because Continental treats its employees well, and those employees treat passengers like me well in turn.

So now Continental is studying the baggage fee question. Kellner doesn't like the idea. But he's facing real, serious challenges with oil at more than $135 per barrel, and if passengers don't mind, he'll take the unusual step of following the rest of the industry.

They'll tell you that it's temporary. It's not.

Shortly after September 11, 2001, the airlines were in a financial tailspin. They decided that the best way to save money was to eliminate meal service in coach. Passengers could see the bind that the airlines were in, so they tolerated it. But when the airlines returned to profitability, did the meals come back? No--just like the pension plans that the carriers dumped in bankruptcy court didn't factor into the immense pay packages of airline executives. And that will happen again, guaranteed.

Do your flying with an airline that doesn't charge the fee--you can choose from Alaska, Delta, Northwest, and all of the low-cost carriers as well as Continental--and make it clear that paying for a bag is not okay. If we tolerate a baggage fee today, we'll be paying it tomorrow and forever.

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