Monday, June 22, 2009

The End of Socialized Air Travel

The dawn of the twenty-first century brought calls for a new "ownership society," the end of the "socialism" of previous years. Personal responsibility and paying only for one's own consumption, we heard, was the way of the future.

Airlines listened. They understood. And, over the last nine years, they have acted.

In 1990, tickets included checked and carry-on baggage. Curbside baggage checks were for the airlines' convenience as much as their passengers, and these were free (tips aside). Virtually every flight included at least a sandwich; mealtimes called for hot meals.

Fast-forward to 2009.

Meals? Free only on Continental; otherwise, plan for $6-8. U.S. Airways desperately wanted you to pay $2 for that soft drink, but thankfully, their competitors held the line. For now.

Checking bags will cost you $15-20 for the first bag, and as much as $50 for the second. Add $2-3 to check those bags at the curb. Oh, and if you didn't pay those fees online, United and U.S. Airways plan to charge you an extra $5 for the privilege of paying the fees in person at the airport.

Want to choose a specific seat? You'll pay as much as $20 for an exit row or aisle seat on most airlines; some charge for choosing any seat.

And RyanAir, the Irish carrier at the vanguard of fee creation, has added a fee for checking in online; the airline plans to outright eliminate its airport check-in desks.

Socialized air travel is dead. Today, you will pay for everything you want a la carte. And if that means paying a higher bottom line price, well... learn to want less. Welcome to the ownership society.

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