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Apr
27

Hidden Fees Part II: Airline Tickets

Hidden Fees Part II

dog eat dog

dog eat dog

It’s a dog eat dog world out there and as anyone over the age of twenty-five probably knows by now, the food chain is not limited to the animal world. Yep, we’re talking about airlines and their repeated attempts to bilk us with their hidden and often absurd fees. But I’m not about to go on a Bernie Madoff rampage against them, because when all is said and done, airlines are not really the evil corporations that we want to make them out to be. Even as we gear up to pay the exorbitant fees associated with summer travel, we’ve got to understand they’re about as broke as we are. The cost of oil, cost of operation, fights over flight plans, landing privileges, slash and burn prices, free advertising. It’s like the Roman coliseum in the skies. And we’re paying the price.

the fight

the fight

And boy, being at the bottom of the food chain is not fun. Just look at the lowly meal worm.  The buck really does stop with us poor humans, being shuffled and manhandled across the world, treated to bathrooms that stink of urine, seats we wouldn’t let our mother-in-laws sit in and food  (if we’re lucky enough to eat) that makes prison food look like one of Wolfgang Puck’s latest creations.

torture

torture

Up until now, they’ve bumped us, allowed us to sit on grounded planes for hours and hours upon end. They’ve embed charges for pillows, blankets, bags, oxygen so deeply in the fine print, we don’t even know what we’re paying for anymore. Some small airlines will charges for excess baggage, seat reservation and the use of credit cards, the list is as creative as it is endless. In 2010 the Irish Airline Ryanair, for example, charged $55 for checking in a bag at the airport. There can also be a high price for drinks and food on board the plane. A recent report found that food and drink on airlines is as much as 635% the price found at a supermarket. But we’re talking bad, bad, food.

yummy

yummy

And there’s more, here’s a little sample of  the top ten  most ridiculous fees airlines try to hide deep within their fares:

1. Making a reservation on the phone or in person

Fee: $5-$20. US Airways is among the greediest on this count: $10 to book over the phone, or $20 to book at the airport or at a city ticket office (if you can find one).  United levies $15 for the privilege of speaking to a human. American, JetBlue, and Southwest $10 (for internet-only fares). Northwest and Virgin America charge just $5.

jetblue

jetblue

2. Re-banking frequent flyer miles
Fee: $50-100. If you cash in your miles and decide not to use your ticket, you’ll be hit with a fee to place the miles back into your account. Why exactly?  These tickets are issued electronically, so what’s the big deal?

3. Cashing in frequent flyer miles without sufficient advance notice
Fee: $0-100.  Some airlines will let you book a frequent-flyer seat even up to the day of travel with no fee. These include Airtran, JetBlue, Northwest and Southwest. But others (Continental, Delta, and United) charge $75 if you book without enough notice (defined as 3 days on Continental but an unreasonable 22 days on Delta); and American charges an insane $100 if you book 6 days or fewer before departure.

United

United

4. Bringing a pet onboard in the cabin
Fee: $50-85 (each way). These fees have skyrocketed lately.They require as much assistance as your bag,  but their fare might end up costing more than yours. Most airlines now charge $80 each way. On United you’ll pay $85, on JetBlue  $50.

5. Checking luggage
Fee: $3-10 (each way). We’re talking here just about checking even one bag, even if they’re not oversized or overweight (that’s a whole other story). Spirit Airlines charges $5 for each of the first two bags if paid for online, $10 each otherwise. The third bag costs a whopping $100, more if it’s oversized or overweight. Does this sound like a milking or what?

6. Getting a refund when a fare goes down
Fee: $25 to $200 or more for the “administrative fee”. Yes, YOU are charged if you want a refund because of a large drop in price. What justifies this? Does it actually cost them $100 to spend a few minutes to rewrite your electronic ticket?

7. Flying standby on the same day of travel
Fee: $0-50. Time was, if there were empty seats on a later or earlier flight on the same day as your original, the airline would confirm you for free. But now, most airlines charge to take an earlier or later flight on the same day as your original flight if you want a confirmed seat. Only AirTran, among the larger airlines, charges no fee if you show up at the airport before your original departure and wish to take an earlier flight, or ask to change to a later departure. American, Continental, JetBlue, Northwest, and US Air charge $25; Delta (always the fee leader) and United hit you up for $50. Southwest is a different animal altogether: there’s no fee to go standby as such, but you’ll have to pay the “walk up” last minute fare, which could be hundreds of dollars more than your original discount fare.

southwest

southwest

8. Paying for lap children
Fee: $10 to 10 percent of the adult fare (international flights).  On a fare of say, $1,200, you’ll be billed $120 or more for the simple privilege of holding the child in your lap for 10 hours (on a business class fare of, say, $5,000 you’ll pay $500). And if there’s a fuel surcharge on your flight, your lap passenger will pay that too, as much as $90 each way.

costly passenger

costly passenger

9. Getting a seat assignment
Fee: $5-$11 each way. Air Canada, AirTran and Allegiant are some of the carriers that now charge for this “perk.” AirTran charges $5 if you’re on a discounted coach ticket; Allegiant charges $11. AirTran charges $15 if you want to grab an exit-row seat and Northwest recently upped the charge from $15 to $20.

Feeling gauged yet? Well, guess what? Apparently all this fun of being the end of the food chain is apparently about to stop. Yep, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is apparently removing our shackles.

They’re calling it the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, which follows roughly a year after the last DOT bill in response to passengers being held captive for hours on end on the snowed in tarmac back east.

waiting to take off

waiting to take off

And guess what they’re addressing this time? Hidden fees. Yep, all those little viruses that make your bill go from affordable to WHAT!!! I didn’t spend that! Fees for bags, meals, pillows and reservation changes.

The new rules, which will take effect in 120 days, require airlines to prominently disclose all fees and taxes on their websites. It also increases compensation for passengers who are involuntary bumped, limits what they call “tarmac delays” for international flights.

“We recognized that passengers are sick and tired of paying for fees that they didn’t know they were going to be paying,” Secretary LaHood said. “Now all fees will be disclosed on the airline websites. So if you have to pay for a bag, it will be disclosed. If you need a pillow, it will be disclosed if you have to pay for it, (same with) a blanket, food. All of these things and the taxes will all be disclosed,” he said.

how much for that pillow?

how much for that pillow?

how much you want for those pretzels?

how much you want for those pretzels?

And it gets better. The DOT says it will propose that all fees be displayed at ticket counters and other points of sale.

Here are the main points of the Bill:

1. Limit tarmac delays. Foreign airlines at U.S. airports, or U.S. airlines on international flights, must limit tarmac delays to four hours. The rule makes exceptions for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons. But carriers must ensure that stuck passengers are provided adequate food and water after two hours, as well as working lavatories and any necessary medical treatment. An existing rule limits tarmac delays for domestic flights to three hours.

2. Compensation for bag fees. Airlines must refund baggage fees if the bag is lost. Airlines already must compensate passengers for lost, damaged or delayed bags. But the new rule requires them to refund the bag fees, typically $25 a bag, if the bag is lost. Airlines will also must apply the same baggage allowances and fees for all segments of a trip.

lost bags

lost bags

3. Increase compensation for bumping. The rule doubles the possible compensation for passengers involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight. Currently, bumped passengers are entitled to compensation equal to the value of their tickets, up to $400, if the airline is able to get them to their destination within a short period of time, or up to $800 for lengthier delays.

Under the new rule, bumped passengers subject to short delays will receive up to $650, while those subject to longer delays would receive payments up to $1,300. Inflation adjustments will be every two years.

money for your trouble?

money for your trouble?

Do you think this will ever really happen? Can you imagine being paid  $1,300 for being inconvenienced when before you just got a shrug? And what about all this transparency? I do believe this is coming. Posted signs would be a real step forward in understanding what we’re paying for.

But at the end of the day, the buck really does top with us humans who still prescribe to the “I can get everything for nothing” philosophy. As long as people really believe there’s a safe flight that costs $30 from Trieste to London, that something like this could really exist, we’ll always be victims to hidden fees, because human beings cannot be transported safely across oceans and nations for the price of a bus fare across town.What do you think? Write in and tell us if you think the new bill will finally empower us.

In the meantime, pack your own pillow.

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