Armstrong Williams

Recently AOL's travel section had this to say about the airlines and their hidden fees and charges. "If you have flown any time over the last few years, it should come as no shock that most airlines are now charging for checked baggage, extra legroom, early boarding, and even in-flight food. But what you may not know is airlines are now considering flying during the holidays a privilege, and have instituted a surcharge for traveling on peak days. This "premium" fee of $10-$30 is added to the cost of your ticket if you fly throughout much of December and the beginning of January. Be wary of deceptively cheap fares, as these tickets are often driven up by add-on fees for holiday air travel."

At a time when most sectors are offering consumers their own “stimulus” packages to incentivize sales, the airlines have gone the other way. They ground planes and take them out of commission, limiting seats, artificially decreasing supply and driving prices up. Flights are routinely (and intentionally) overbooked, with flyers now receiving empty apologies followed by emotionless comments of “There’s nothing I can really do.”

Signs now warn “Doors close promptly 10 minutes before take-off” so carriers can cancel seat assignments for confirmed passengers and offer to standby passengers. At the same time, flight delays are at near-record highs, with average lapses inching toward hours, not minutes.

I recently took a cross-country flight. I was tired, hungry and bored. When I tried to find some solace in even a movie (a staple of major carriers on flights longer than say, 2.5 hours), it was as if I’d asked the flight attendant to do a cartwheel down the middle of the aisle. Her reply was the same, “We stopped doing that.” No explanation. No apology. Just a “deal with it” look on her face that made me feel as if I had asked for a lap dance.

I won’t name the airline because it doesn’t matter. They all seem to be the same. Come to think of it, have you noticed that all the airlines seem to have adopted their own “race to the bottom”? When one executive was recently asked why they no longer serve creature comforts such as a cookie or a second pass of the beverage cart, his response was, “Because no one else is.” That, my friends, is the sign of collusion, pure and simple. How can an industry purport to serve its customers when it’s constantly looking for a way to stiff them? Are their margins so short they can’t offer more than one bag of pretzels? I don’t believe that, because if it were true, they wouldn’t be in the airline business. Those executives would be in the pretzel business where pennies on the dollar signal boon times.

Part of me can’t help but to blame regulators for this mess. There are so many obstacles to entry in the domestic carrier industry. And when one airline seems to get a foothold, they’re quickly squashed by the competition, either due to pre-determined hubs and flights or because the sector is both cash and capital intensive. What results is the opposite – major mergers of airlines that threaten to consolidate power (and oligopolistic behavior) even further. Or worse, bankruptcies that let carriers restructure and return, with even less incentive to cater to customers.

Maybe I’m just complaining. I haven’t really offered statistics or any economic models to support my claims. But do I really need to? I still take flights that make a refugee camp look like Club Med in terms of seating. I still have to pay resort-style prices for quickie-mart quality food. And I still feel like I’m taken to the cleaners every time I purchase a ticket to a destination that requires me to actually carry a change of clothes.

Armstrong Williams

Armstrong Williams is a widely-syndicated columnist, CEO of the Graham Williams Group, and hosts the Armstrong Williams Show. He is the author of Reawakening Virtues.
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