Fees for "priority boarding" of the planes. Fees for extra legroom. Fees for wider seats. Fees for choosing seats. Fees for snacks served aboard. Fees for checking luggage. Fees for contacting an airline reservationist. Those and countless other extra fees confront today's airline passenger. Are they all part of a deliberate conspiracy of the airlines to collect fees from passengers seeking to avoid unbearable discomfort?
Recently, a Professor Wu of the Columbia University Law School pointed out that in order for these airline fees to create large profits for the airlines, "there needs to be something worth paying for to avoid, [something] that necessitates at some level a strategy that can be described as calculated misery. Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that's where the suffering begins".
Based on this professor's assumption, an internet website called Alternet recently listed the ways in which airlines have made flying uncomfortable, in order to induce passengers to pay fees to avoid discomfort.
Method one: The airlines have created the least efficient ways to board their flights, causing the boarding process to resemble a cattle call. To avoid the discomfort of boarding, passengers pay up to $40 for "priority boarding".
Method two: More and more airlines are limiting the methods for buying air tickets, preventing some websites from issuing tickets and, in the case of Lufthansa, charging $18 for the right to buy tickets from anyone other than the airline itself, which then adds other required purchases.
Method three: Airlines have clearly reduced legroom in their economy seats, and have also installed narrower seats, forcing some passengers to purchase better seats ("premium economy") to avoid discomfort.
Method four: The airlines have introduced ridiculously overpriced penalties for changing tickets ($200 for domestic flights, $300 for some international flights), causing passengers to accept anxiety-producing fears when reserving flights. None of these change fees reflect the actual expense to the airline of changing flights.
Method five: The universal introduction of luggage fees (something of which we're all now aware) forces passengers to bring lighter--and sometimes insufficient--luggage onto a flight. We pay extra for sufficient luggage.
Method six: The actual cost of tickets no longer reflects the airlines' costs. Despite the fact that the price of aviation fuel has fallen by half in recent months, most airlines have not passed on a penny of their savings in the form of lower airfares.
Why are these extra fees and costs so universal? It's because airlines no longer need to compete with one another. Four airlines—Delta, United, American and Southwest—now account for more than 80% of all domestic flights, and each such airline dominates the business of its own particular routes. They can all introduce means of making flying uncomfortable, without suffering a competitive response.
And that situation has resulted in massive profits. According to Alternet, the four airlines enjoyed profits of $5.5 billion in just the three months of the last quarter. Clearly, the public and the Congress needs to become aware of what harmful monopolies the remaining few airlines have become.