Airlines latest scam

Fuel prices went up so airline ticket prices went up.

Security issues became more common so airlines put up ticket prices.

Baggage is no longer part of your ticket price (for most flights) but an extra cost.

That seat you preferred, the airline noticed, and now charge you more for that specific seat.

You want to sit next to your spouse; well in that case it will cost you more.

If you want cold damp squashed sandwiches, that will cost you extra now.

You want to actually get on the plane, well do you want to get on before or after that family with six kids, oh before, that will cost you extra.

You want to get there without having to stop for six hours at another airport on the way, guess what they will cost you extra.

Recently there has been discussion to reduce the size of carry-on bags, allowing extra charges for that bag that you have used for years.

Some airlines have considered charging for an in-flight crap.

You can pay extra for a shorter check-in queue, access to a chair in a waiting room, curb side check-in, in-flight movies, tv and internet access.

Some airlines have tried charging for a pillow or a blanket.

And now there is a line item on airline tickets that just says “carrier imposed fees”. What are these you ask, well they are fees imposed by the carrier. If you call and ask they advise you that they don’t provide any more detail.

It seems that since fuel prices are falling, they can’t call these a fuel surcharge anymore, because there is no reason for a fuel surcharge, so now they are just undeclared “carrier imposed” surcharges.

Airlines are currently very profitable, but they are making these profits but fleecing their customers. With less choice, poorer services and using every chance to charge extra for anything that isn’t nailed down.

As airlines merge, and on most routes there is less competition, there needs to be an advocate for the consumer that looks at fair business practices. But right now this does not exist and the life of an air traveller is just getting worse and more expensive every month.

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Airlines are screwing us!

I’m not the tallest person to fly, at five foot eleven inches I’m probably in the average category in terms of European and Americans. And yet when I sit in an economy seat on most airlines my knee touches the seat in front. When the person in front leans their seat back, there is a good chance my knee will be touching the metalwork of the seat back and they will be met with a yelp of pain as their action whacks me. Are they wrong? Am I sitting incorrectly? I think there is a third, quite obvious option. Airlines are making the space between seats too small.

Laptops used to be much bigger than they are today, but in the past I used to be able to use mine while flying in economy. Today’s seatback and table configuration are so small as to not allow a modern (smaller) laptop to be used without significant risk of it being crushed if the seat is reclined.

The space in economy is shrinking, each new plane or seat configuration finds ways to shave a couple of inches out of every seat.
The concept of premium economy came about when airlines realized people preferred specific seats. These are just the least crappy seats in economy, and now they charge extra for them.

Passengers fighting over the right to recline vs. having enough space to fully inflate your lungs is missing the point. Airlines are F&*^ing with their basic service to make economy so uncomfortable that passengers will pay extra for what was until very recently no cost options.
Flying is getting less pleasant and more expensive every year. Airlines are going out of their way to make it so.
Next time you’re in a plane and feel like fighting with another passenger over who gets the space, recliner or recline, think instead about blacklisting that particular airline.

When I book airline tickets I have a choice, and I actively choose to avoid certain airlines. It’s easy to do, and the compound effect of every flyer going through this simple equation is huge.

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The power of regulations

This week I travelled to Europe on one of the major American Airlines, Actually it was American Airlines, but it could have just as easily been United/Continental or Delta, because in the following respect they are all exactly the same.

I was at Heathrow airport about to return to New York, when American decided to cancel all their flights to the East Coast. I was in the lounge surrounded by American Employees. I was told that all flights were cancelled and that I would need to rebook in a few days once they were flying again. There was no help offered to even get my fellow passengers or me back to a hotel. Nothing, except the advice to call the American phone number to re-book.

As this was going on Virgin and many other European airlines were still having flights go both ways. Actually American chose to cancel all their flights in excess of 30 hours before the US airports were officially closed. While, the European airlines were flying to within a couple of hours of the airports being closed.

I wondered why the difference. And it turns out it’s down to a regulation that European airlines have to follow. All European airlines must pay the costs of passengers who are stranded when a flight is cancelled for any reason. They have a clear financial incentive to keep moving people. While the American deregulated airlines do not have to follow these rules.

At no point was safety an issue. The exact time when the airports and flight paths would be dangerous was clearly known, but all American Airlines chose to just cancel their flights. I assume they suspected that many people wouldn’t want to fly or would not be able to reach the planes in time, and so the planes would be mostly empty. So it was a purely financial decision, which placed a huge additional burden on the travelling public.

I was at Heathrow working out how to get out of the terminal and get back to the city, while multiple Virgin flights continued to fly to and from the East coast. All these flights of course were full.

I called American to change my flights. And waited on fully loaded phone systems for hours with presumably thousands of other passengers. When I eventually did get through the American agent explained to me that the civil Aviation Authority had closed the airports. I explained that this was not true and used Virgin as my proof point. The agent stuttered a little and then went on to plan B, and said that this was a huge storm and not something in Americans control. While I didn’t disagree that the storm was going to be terrible, I explained that it was still over a day away. I wasn’t really interested in an excuse but wanted to work out when was the right time to expect to be able to get back. He suggested I wait until the next weekend (a full week later). We eventually agreed that Wednesday would be a safe bet, and he rebooked me on an indirect flight, as all direct flights were already booked.
All international flights cannot be changed online on American, but require a call to the airline. The agent I spoke to tried to charge me a $370 change fee, which I disputed due to the Hurricane, but he insisted on a credit card number before he would book it.

The experience was so terrible, that I decided to call Virgin and book a backup flight with them. What a different experience. A happy, even chirpy agent who answered the phone was able to book me on a direct flight to JFK, for the same Wednesday. And she explained to be that Virgin were committed to getting people to their destinations whenever it was safe.

Wednesday came; the American Flight was cancelled (as were many other American flights to the east coast) while every single Virgin Flight on the same routes flew.

I got home to a very happy wife and dog. Many of Americans customers are still trapped around the world.

I like American Airlines; I’ve flown over a million miles with them. I like them for their powerful network across all of the US. I now understand why their staff are often so miserable. It must be terrible to follow rules, which are purely financially motivated, and not customer centric, and I’m sure these same rules are just as draconian for the staff.

I don’t believe the Virgin staff is any better than the American staff, but they sure are happier.

I’ll still fly American, but when I have a flight option between American and Virgin on a route, and all other things are equal I’ll choose Virgin.

Hurricane Sandy has had a huge impact on many of my friends and family. Many people I know are still without power, water and heat. Natural disasters are horrible, but this is no excuse for deregulated airlines to put finance ahead of their duty of care to their customers. While safety cannot be compromised, every person who was able to travel home opened up a hotel room on long island and Manhattan for people who are without a house, and getting people home to their families increased the help people in need were able to get. Virgin should be very proud of the way they handled them responsibilities, and while I’m sure they had a financial motivation, they still did the right thing.

That’s the power of regulations!

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“Donations” and Other Former “Free”-bies

Has anyone else had enough of secret fees, extra charges for things that were free last year (or last week), and “mandatory donations?”

Having to pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for the right to pay full price for season sports tickets???  e.g.: Duke basketball fans can buy 4 season tickets at full price with a yearly donation of $15,000-$58,500.  That sure is a nice reward for your best customers, isn’t it?

A delivery charge from Domino’s Pizza accompanied by a reminder to tip the delivery guy???  Where does the delivery charge go Mr. Pizza Boss? – New laces for the sneakers he wears when he walks 2 blocks to deliver my pie perhaps???

Coming to your next flight?

My bank (ironically billed as “America’s Most Convenient Bank”), charged me 50 cents to check the balance on one of my other accounts at their in-bank ATM this week.  Really?  Yes, really-

And don’t get me started on the airlines – I fully expect pay toilets and an extra charge to recline my seat any f#%*ing day now!!!

This kind of bait and switch crap is really pissing me off and I’m putting all the young Harvard MBAs who thought this crap up on notice: Clean up your act and trade in your “Carny Scams” manual for “The Essential Peter Drucker” or I’ll find you and make you wish you had!

The Carny/Harvard MBA: “Princes Among Men” ?

Gotta run now, I see a young man in a suit taking notes at the “Pop the Balloon, Win Big Prize!” carnival booth-

Note: Museums with a specific “suggested donation” aren’t any better than these Harvard carnies’ and their scams… A “$5 Suggested Donation” sign in front of some old battle axe woman who gives you the stink-eye until you pony up is extortion, not a gentle suggestion. (23)

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Hidden charges and less comfort – The new airline business

Lets cut to the chase – instead of slowly reducing the quality of airline travel, why not remove all the seats , and put in cattle pens today. And instead of charging a fare that has absolutely no relation to the final charge of air travel, we should just give the airlines direct access to our bank accounts and our house keys, and just let them take it all. It’s getting to that point anyway, so why don’t we just bend over and drop out trousers today.

As you might suspect, I’ve just come off a flight, and the injustice is still very fresh. It’s reached the point where the airport staff and onboard attendants are actually embarrassed by the charges and low quality of service.

We’re all used to (but still affronted by) the charges for excess baggage. But Continental (who are now United) now charge $25 per bag for the first checked back, each way for flights. If the bag is overweight, or if you want to carry a second bag, I believe the changes are dramatically higher. Twenty five bucks may not seem a lot, but it has two huge knock-on effects.

Yes Please

Firstly it means that every passenger now has to spend about ten minutes checking in, as these credit card transactions are done in airline coding systems, and so require a megabyte of codes to be entered to process. So queues now go much slower, requiring much larger cattle pens to hold the potential passengers.

But the second issue makes the whole process so much worse. To avoid having to check bags people are maxing out that carry-on allowance, with maximum-sized carryon bags, and maximum sized handbags or laptop bags as well. So now the process of boarding is three times as long as there is never enough storage space on the plane for the luggage.

When you eventually make your way up the aisle, found a space for your bags, have squeezed into the incredibly tiny seat (which invariably creaks or has a broken reclining mechanism, which either doesn’t recline or reclines automatically every time you lean back), You then find there is a TV in front of you that requires a credit card, and since the airlines now charge for food, the people to the side of you have brought their own lunch, which smells like it is two weeks old and made of rotting cabbage and garlic.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I love to see the world, I’d tell the airlines to stick it.

But here’s the thing, there are some wonderful airlines out there, and I may have to start to choose where to travel just by the airline. If a good airline doesn’t go from here to there, maybe there isn’t worth seeing.

Listen up mayors and tourist boards of the world, you need to fight crappy airline service, if you want to keep people coming, or you might just find yourself pulling an Iceland level financial crisis.

He had the right idea
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I’m Angry about the baiting and switchery of air travel.

What was included is now an extra. They now charge you extra for checked bags, that’s been happening for a while of course, and we have sort of become used it. It’s sort of like getting used to being punched in the face, I’m sure if you knew that every time you left your house someone would lay a fist between your eyes, you would on some level get used to it, but I cannot imagine ever getting to the point where you accept it as reasonable. That’s how I feel about being charged for carrying luggage on a plane.

You’re going somewhere a significant distance from where you live, and you going there for more that a few hours. It’s reasonable to expect to carry luggage, and it is unreasonable to be charged an extra lump of readies to do this. Okay if your taking well above the normal, I can see the cost issue and a fair charge is reasonable. But there must be a reasonable expectation of some luggage, there used to be! Some airlines are still “allowing” you to carry the first bag for free, but the path has been forged and this is slowly being eroded.

It’s as unreasonable as being charged extra for your carry-on bag, or being changed extra for a seat with enough room to be able to sit for the length of the flight without losing the feeling below the knees because there isn’t now enough room for an average set of legs. Or being charged extra for using the dunnie, or for being charged extra for a crap meal. All of these are being tested by airlines today.

And it seems that the airlines have realized this, since one thing is unreasonable and people have accepted it, then why not charge for every other possible unreasonable thing. They are trying it out, and guess what the flying public (having no choice) is accepting it.

For most flights you don’t choose the airline, you choose the destination. And given that there is normally very little choice as to which airline you use to go from A to B, you just accept their crappy service.

On the few occasions where I have a choice of airline, and given that normally the prices are almost identical, I choice based on which airlines have screwed me least in the past. It seems that the best an airline of today can offer is to suck least.

And what about the fuel surcharges. The moment crude oil prices increased the airlines passed on the cost to the passengers. But as the prices came down again it seems they forgot to reduce or remove these surcharges. For many flights now the surcharges and extra costs actually are greater than the posted cost of the flight itself.

I know airlines are having a very tough time, but I suspect this is not going to be fixed by screwing the customer. Paraphrasing the words of a very astute management consultant (Peter Drucker) “The purpose of a business is to create and keep customers, only when they are doing this well should they should look at cost an efficiency”. I’d suggest the airline industry has lost sight of the customer.

There are some examples of excellence in the airline industry, and these airlines are the ones that are profitable, safe, efficient and have happy customers, but I think they are focused on keeping their customers happy and then the others accolades are a consequence of that.


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