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I posted this article on ConsumerTraveler.com this morning. We are trying to get the airlines to disclose ancillary fees to travel agents, both online and on-the-corner. What do you think about this line of reasoning?
Flying is already an extraordinary hassle for parents with toddlers, diaper bags, baby bottles, snacks, safety seats, games, extra clothing and TSA security checks. Now, the airlines are making it worse.
Do airlines really hate families? Some airlines, thankfully only foreign carriers, have instituted "no-children zones." However, airlines in the U.S. are engaged in creating back-door policies that make it particularly difficult for families traveling together while at the same time making it more difficult to encourage passengers from shifting seats to accommodate families split up because of airline these new airline policies.
Newspapers have begun to cover the sad state of airline travel for families when it comes to seat reservations, but stories about seats cover only the tip of the customer service iceberg families have to navigate when flying. There are new and increasing seat reservation fees that make it difficult to seat families together. Baggage fees that fall disproportionately on families with small children. The demise of early boarding for families adds to the stress that families face and limits their ability to get parents and children together. Poor airline fee disclosure leaves families paying more than they have to.
Seat reservation fees
Many of you have not yet faced the problems associated with seat-reservation fees. The airlines haven't had time to re-program all of their computers to make family travel completely miserable. But, the day is coming, once the airlines figure out their revenue management software and start to apply it to seats.
Airline experiments with paying for seat assignments have been going on for years on an airline-by-airline basis. Spirit already charges $1-$50 for any seat assignment prior to check-in. AirTran has a similar policy with its lowest fare tickets. Other airlines pick and choose which seats will be designated "choice" or "preferred" and then charge additionally for them. When an airline charges a reservation fee for every aisle and window seat, it makes it impossible for families to sit together without paying an additional fee.
Checked baggage and carry-on baggage fees
Families, especially families with small children, find it impossible to travel without extra bags. In virtually every instance they do not have the luxury to travel without checked luggage or find it difficult to travel without luggage that needs to go into the overhead bins on aircraft.
I know, the airlines defensively say that they are only making travelers pay for what they use, but the sad fact of the matter is that families (and senior citizens with limited upper body strength and movement) that bear the brunt of airline fees they cannot avoid. And, families with toddlers do not have the choice of sending diapers, toys and extra clothing ahead by FedEx or UPS.
Early boarding for families
As part of a "service improvement" that came about with the merger of Continental and United, the new merged airline decided to eliminate early boarding for families. Pre-merger, Continental allowed early boarding; United did not. American Airlines has decided to let families fend for themselves, preferring to cater to those who pay extra fees to board early to pad the airline's bottom line. US Airways has a hybrid model that has families board after elite passengers and those who paid a fee for the privilege, but before the rest of coach passengers. Delta, of the majors, still allows families with small children to board early as does Jet Blue and Virgin America.
Lack of air travel price comparisons
An added irritation with these seat-reservation and baggage fees is that the airlines do not disclose these fees up front so that passengers can calculate the full cost of air transportation including bags and seat reservations. It is impossible to get these fees disclosed through travel agents, both online and face-to-face at downtown agencies, because the airlines refuse to tell travel agents how much bag charges and seat reservation costs will be for particular flights during the purchase process.
The airlines are fighting against the free market despite their rhetoric. This battle against allowing the flying public to compare the full cost of travel across airlines costs families more than other groups simply because baggage and seat reservation fees are multiplied based on the size of the family.
Theoretically, a family could compare prices across airlines by going from airline site to airline site, filling out Web forms and TSA information before getting seat-reservation fees. Baggage fees for specific flights, modified by different types of fliers, are never produced prior to purchase. After that frustrating and time-consuming process, the airfares may have changed, resulting in yet another search.
Why can't families go online, load the website with information that they are four people traveling together, want seats adjacent to each other, will be carrying on four bags and checking two bags for a flight from Chicago to Orlando? Then, they should be able to push a button and see the prices across airlines, including baggage and seat-reservation fees. That's basic honesty and price transparency — the kind that makes free markets work. That's not too much to ask.
But to airlines determined to obscure prices and fees and willingly deceive passengers about the true cost of travel, honesty translates to lower profits. In the end, families are left to navigate an increasingly misleading and deceptive marketplace for airline travel.
These anti-family actions by the airlines have another more pernicious side. Where, once upon a time, passengers were willing to shift seats when families had a problem finding seats together, the new world of paid reservations is creating an I-paid-for-this-particular-seat world making reseating of families separated on aircraft more difficult.
That, combined with the I-paid-to-get-on-early and I'm-an-entitled-elite-flier attitudes cultivated by the airlines through their never-treat-everyone-equal and class-envy-encouraging policies and fees, isn't making family travel any more pleasant and is discouraging civil interactions between passengers.
That's the unfortunate product of greed fueled by fees — airline greed for ever higher and expanded fees and passengers' growing attitude that what's-mine-is-mine.
Spot on, Mr. Advocate. As usual. So obvious. Are the airlines shooting themselves in their own feet, so to speak?
I was asked by KHOU CBS (Houston) to comment on the seat reservation fees KHOU Seat Reservation Fees. I have watched gate agents and flight attendants in Orlando (my home city) deal with this on each flight. People did not pay the seat reservation fees (and I wouldn't either) and then have little ones too young to sit alone. So it becomes a Rubik's cube trying to get everyone switched around. Passengers aren't happy, gate agents aren't happy; flight attendants aren't happy... Only the airline is.
My thoughts on the United switch to not board children first is at: