Monday, February 8, 2010

Pillow-and Blanket-Talk

Which new airline fee will be the proverbial camel that breaks the weary air traveler's back? Maybe none of them; travelers seem to be getting used to paying extra for snacks, hot meals, legroom, windowand aisle seats, checked luggage, and other things not included in the price of basic airfare.

American Airlines will shortly become the latest carrier to charge extra in economy class for a pillow and blanket - at least on flights over two hours within North America, the Caribbean and Central America. The blanket and pillow will be packaged together and cost $8 USD as of May 1 for those who want a little extra comfort. Fellow U.S. carriers JetBlue Airways and US Airways already charge for pillows and blankets; both of those airlines charge $7 USD.

Might as well get used to it. It's annoying, but this is the brave new world of air travel - especially so on U.S. domestic flights. Airlines are starved for revenue, thanks to the Great Recession, security scares and security costs and the volatile price of jet fuel. The airlines have tried to raise fares, but consumer push-back has kept those raises at minimal levels - as compared to, say, the soaring cost of private health care in the United States, where patients have little choice but to pay up. Compared to that, the airline add-ons are small stuff.

Still, one does wish air fares - once all-inclusive or nearly so - were all-inclusive again. It's cleaner, faster, clearer, compared to the maze of fees, taxes, surcharges and add-ons that passengers pay now. But until airlines can return to profit on a consistent basis - and until passengers accept at least modest airfare hikes - the nickle and diming will continue.

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