Flying

Mitch Albom | Hey, airlines! How about some fees for us?

January 30, 2013 

Last week, Southwest Airlines, which likes to brag about being the “no-fee” airline, announced a new fee:

You can pay $40 to board the plane sooner.

This is separate from the $10 you can pay for early check-in or the higher-priced “business select” fare, both of which also let you board the plane sooner.

Gee. I’d hate to be a Southwest gate agent. A matador has an easier job.

All this from an airline that claims to have first-come, first-serve seating.

But no surprise. Flying and “fee” are synonymous. Once upon a time, you bought an airplane ticket, and that was the end of your money outlay.

Now, it’s just the start. You pay to check your first bag. You pay to check your second. You pay for legroom or to use the overhead compartment. You pay for a snack. Or a pillow. Or a blanket.

You pay to send a child alone. You pay to bring a pet. You pay to book your ticket in person. You pay for headsets. And WiFi.

Fees now constitute between 10 percent and 30 percent of all revenue for the airlines. And it’s not likely to change.

But it could work both ways.

I would like to propose a new set of fees. Ones the airlines pay to us. These are fair. They are across the board. And just as the airlines are always telling customers that fees are optional, as long as you don’t do certain things (i.e., bring luggage, eat or sit anywhere but the last row, middle seat), my fees are optional, too. Deliver what you should deliver, airlines, and there will be no charge.

On the other hand, if you want to continue certain practices, you gotta dig into those pockets.

For example …

Every time you land and the gate is not available, you pay each passenger $10.

Every time you reach the gate and the Jetway operator can’t be found, you pay each passenger $10.

Every time you run out of space in the overhead compartments, you pay each passenger $25.

Every time there is not a single human being behind your ticket counters, you pay $60.

Every bag you lose, $35.

And every “maintenance” delay is $300 per passenger. You’re supposed to fix the planes in the hangars, not on the tarmac.

And there’s more …

Every time you list “on time” on the monitors, when in truth the plane is delayed for an hour, you pay each passenger $15.

If you put people on hold for more than a minute, you pay $5.

More than 15 minutes, $20.

If the seat won’t go back, it’s $20.

If the seat won’t come up, it’s $20.

Video out? That’s $10.

And if the crossword puzzle already is done in the airline magazine, it’s $3. Come on. You print enough of those.

On the other hand, if the airlines returned to charging one ticket price, checking all your bags for free, assigning you decent seats, greeting you in person, feeding you, telling you the truth and allowing you to change or cancel tickets, I’d consider dropping my fee plan, as well.

For a $2 charge.

Contact Albom, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, at malbom@freepress.com.

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