Fairness in Airfares: What Should You Pay to Fly?

December 12, 2011

in Consumer Alerts

  • SumoMe

Consumer travel advocate, Christopher Elliott, recently asked this question about the cost of air travel in a post to his blog:  Do travelers need new federal protections?” 

Elliott noted that a bill introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) called the “Airline Passenger BASICS Act would force air carriers to let passengers check one bag within weight limits at no extra charge and would guarantee certain minimum standards for passengers, such as access to free drinking water and bathroom facilities as well as the right to carry on bags and personal items for no fee.”

According to Elliott, Senator Landrieu stated that “passengers should not be charged additional fees for checked or carry-on baggage, drinkable water or other reasonable requests. Air travel can be a stressful experience for many reasons, but unfair fees for basic amenities should not be one of them.”

Whether Senator Landrieu bill would make life as an air traveler better it it were to be enacted seems debatable. Certainly full disclosure, up-front, of what you will pay to fly, is important. But so is what you pay for what you want (and what you get).

I’m not running for Congress, but if I were to do so, I would fight for a law that would let passengers compare airfares between carriers, apples-to-apples, oranges-to-oranges, but keep their travel costs down by not paying for services like bag checking that they didn’t want.  Airlines would benefit because they would not be required to provide specific services if a passenger said it was okay not to provide them.

Well, as with all laws, including my “Win-Win Airfare Fairness Act,”, the devil is in the details.  So to find out how I plan to save you money when you fly and save the airline industry, read on.

Airlines face a dilemma: Offer all services  including a seat on the plane, a place to stow your bags, food and beverages, employees to assist you at the ticket counter and on-board) for a flat one-size-fits-all fee, or “unbundle” the services so each customer only buys what he or she desires.

So if I am not going to check a bag (and, therefore, don’t need airline/airport employees to move it through the bowels of the airport and onto the plane), or don’t want a meal served to me during the flight, why not remove the cost of those items from what the airline would have charged me for “fully-bundled” travel services, and let me pay less for the trip?

Flying “ala carte” obviously appeals to many airline passengers. Others would prefer an all-inclusive, one-price fare that could easily be compared with that from another airline flying between the same destinations.

Suppose Congress passed a law that required airlines to offer all passengers a fare that included all services, but allowed them to opt-out of the ones they didn’t want in order to fly for less?

Here’s an example of how my plan would work. Suppose that the all-inclusive fare from San Francisco to New York is $350 (includes two checked bags up to 30 lbs in weight each, ability to choose any seat in coach at the time of booking, free water, coffee, tea and soft drinks, and a hot meal served at your seat).

But the passenger can check a box to reduce the fare by these amounts:

  1. No checked luggage – $50 off
  2. One checked bag only – $25 off
  3. No beverage service (except water provided at no charge) – $10 off
  4. No meal service – $15 off

As my “constituents” (that is, readers of this blog), I am asking you to “vote” on whether my “Win-Win Airfare Fairness Act” would be a good deal for both passengers and the airlines that carry them through the “Not-As-Friendly-As-They-Once-Were” skies.

[polldaddy poll="5751005"]

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