All we’re really asking for are fair fares

By | August 28th, 2009

zoomTurns out passengers are upset about rising luggage fees — and more.

I couldn’t have imagined the response to my recent commentary about US Airways’ decision to increase its baggage surcharges. In reader feedback on this site, Twitter and Facebook, it seemed as if many passengers really were on the verge of revolting.

But against what, exactly? I think I know the answer.

It’s really the lies that bother us.

Lies like these.

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Here are fare quotes from New York to London on a travel site. The boldface is a “base” fare, but it’s not the real price. Look below that, in smaller type, to find the “total.”

Is that the total? No. If you need to check a bag or eat on the flight, you’re taken to another page with a huge chart and the following indecipherable instructions:

The following major airlines currently charge an extra fee each time bags are checked with that airline. For passengers whose tickets are sold as a codeshare flight, operating and/or marketing carrier fees may apply. For other airlines, please check that carrier’s website for detailed information concerning that carrier’s baggage fee policy.

There’s no need to mention the popular online travel agency I’ve gotten this from, because they pretty much all do it. And that’s the problem. None of the sites will change their fare displays because they don’t want to put themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Airlines don’t do much better. Here’s the same fare on an airline site:


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Huh? What’s an “average” fare? What’s the difference between that and a “fare per person”?

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Why not just display the total price first?

Of course, none of this includes luggage and food, which few people want to do without on a seven-hour flight.

Are airlines trying to make their tickets appear cheaper than they are? Absolutely.

So what’s the solution? Well, here’s what Frontier Airlines does, and I think it works.

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When you’re quoted a fare, you’re offered several different price options, called AirFares. I asked the airline’s head of customer service to explain in a recent interview.

What we’ve done is create a fare structure that allows passengers to purchase just what they want and that saves them money. Not checking a bag? Perfect, book Economy. Taking a short flight and don’t care what seat you get? Perfect, buy Economy and you can still check-in the night before. Know that you’ll be checking a bag, traveling with the family — so you want advanced seat assignments — TV, a snack and a beverage? Book Classic Plus and get all the amenities in your ticket price and flexibility to change if your plans change.

Frontier’s AirFares are a good start.

I think passengers are upset because they believe they’re being lied to — and they are. The Transportation Department will not act because it says it can’t regulate fares. Yet these are unfair and deceptive practices, if not bait and switch advertising. The DOT has jurisdiction and must act in a situation of deceptive pricing like this. Why won’t it?

Where will it end? At zero fares? At what point will the government step in and say, “enough” — the people we represent deserve fair fares?

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