Fly Me to the Moon

People don’t mind paying for premium service.  They don’t mind cost so much when they know what to expect.  But imagine dining in a restaurant, ordering from a nice menu, and then discovering that there are extra charges for the dishes, glasses, and silverware.  That glass of water?  Extra.  Oh, and remember when you asked to move away from the table by the kitchen door, to that empty booth in the corner?  That's another BIG extra charge.

In this crazy scenario, I believe that most level-headed would soon stop dining out.  But isn't this exactly what the airlines are doing?   
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In the 2nd Quarter of 2010, U.S. airlines collected $2.1 billion in fees and extra charges from passengers in the, up 13 percent from the first three months of the year. This is from the US Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ recent quarterly report.  This $2.1 billion has been collected for the following "services": baggage fees, reservation change fees and miscellaneous operating revenue, including pet transportation, sale of frequent flyer award miles to airline business partners and standby passenger fees, as well as revenue from seating assignments and on-board sales of food, drink, pillows, blankets, and entertainment.  None of these are listed "on the menu" when one buys a ticket.

Oh, and by the way, I haven’t noticed a whole lot of customer service awards being granted to airlines these days. Seems like all of them regularly run behind schedule, and a lot of their personnel are pretty grumpy. There are a couple of airlines that seem to “get it,” but for the most part, the customer experience is pretty mediocre-to-poor.  So what’s a customer to do?  

Well, the Consumer Travel Alliance , the Business Travel Coalition, and the American Society of Travel Agents have launched the website MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com.  To date, they have collected over 50,000 signatures, including mine, on a petition they plan to present to the Department of Transportation (DOT) today (9/23/2010).  I think when fifty thousand of your customers speak up against how you are running your business, and they are mad enough to go to the government about it, you kinda hafta listen, dontcha?

I will be very interested in seeing how this plays out.  At least one of the airlines that “get it” is making the fact that they do NOT charge for checked baggage a big part of their advertising campaign.  Good idea on their part, but at the same time, kind of sad that NOT charging a hidden fee is viewed as a competitive advantage.

 – Chuck Dennis

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