Congress comes to the aid of travelers, sort of

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Congress last week proposed not one, but three ideas that could dramatically improve your next travel experience. I know that sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s true.

To get a sense of just how friendless travelers are in D.C., consider the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, which funds the agency, among other things. It’s the best chance in four years to fix everything that’s wrong with flying, and maybe a few other travel problems, too. The current 273-page bill looks like it was written by airline lobbyists, save for one or two provisions that could help ordinary passengers.

For example, the powers that be tossed air travelers a table scrap with an interesting proposal that would help you when your luggage is misplaced by an airline. Specifically, it directs the Secretary of Transportation to create a rule that requires airlines to refund any baggage fees charged to passengers if luggage isn’t delivered within 24 hours, beginning at the time of the flight arrival. Currently, airlines only have to cough up these highly profitable fees if they lose your bag, and they only did that after the government forced them to.

But it’s a half-baked idea. While air travelers want their luggage to be delivered on time, they’re more concerned about getting to their destinations themselves — when their airline’s schedule promised it would get them there. To make this rule truly consumer-friendly, Congress should mandate that airlines refund airfares if they can’t deliver you to your destination within 24 hours of their schedule.

Second great idea: A proposed new law called the Stop Online Booking Scams Act, which would require all third-party hotel booking websites to disclose that they’re not affiliated with the hotel for which you’re making the reservation. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., says that the new requirement will help you tell the difference between legitimate hotel websites and fraudulent ones masquerading as name-brand sites.

But for guests, the more important disclosure is price. The hotel industry is awash in mandatory “resort” fees, lodging taxes and other surcharges, and hotel websites frequently don’t reveal these extra charges until the final booking screen. For consumers, the problem isn’t just knowing that they’re booking through a third party, but also knowing up front how much they’re going to pay for their room.

If the hotel industry, which supports the bill, really wants to help its customers, why not tweak it to require any hotel reservation site to disclose the full rate, including any mandatory fees, when you request a price quote?

Finally, we have the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., which does something air travelers have wanted for a long time: It sets minimum dimensions for passenger seats on planes. Cohen says the average distance between rows of economy class seats has dropped, from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s, to about 31 inches today. The average width of an airline seat has also shriveled, from 18 inches to about 16½.

Smaller seats aren’t just a comfort issue, but also a potential safety problem, according to Cohen. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that planes be capable of rapid evacuation in case of emergencies, yet they haven’t conducted emergency evacuation tests on all of today’s seats. Doctors also warn that deep vein thrombosis can afflict passengers who can’t move their legs during longer flights, notes Cohen.

Critics and industry lobbyists say setting a minimum seat size would interfere with a free market and raise fares. But there’s no credible evidence prices would go up, and the SEAT Act would go a long way toward making air travel a little safer, if not more civil.

Unfortunately, the SEAT Act failed as an amendment to the FAA bill last week, but Cohen says he plans to ask Congress to vote on it again soon.

The crop of proposals contains at least one dud: A proposed amendment to the FAA bill that would allow airlines to quote an initial fare minus taxes and mandatory fees, deceptively called the Transparent Airfares Act. The act, which passed the House two years ago but failed to gain any traction in the Senate, is being pushed again by airline apologists. It would effectively dupe air travelers into believing their fares are cheaper than they are, potentially costing them billions of dollars.

But overall, these congressional actions are something to cheer about if you’re a traveler. Now, if we could only get them passed.

How to help pass these pro traveler laws

Contact your representative. Bonus points if they’re on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation, but it’s not necessary. Tell them you support the SEAT Act, a modified Stop Online Booking Scams Act, and that you favor the refund provision in the FAA bill. Every vote matters.

Keep the pressure on. As these laws work their way through the legislature, stay in contact with your representative about making a positive change for travelers. You can contact your elected representative here: house.gov/representatives/find

Vote for change. If these proposals don’t become law — and let’s not kid ourselves, they probably won’t all pass — then remember who did this to you come election time. Vote for someone who will do the right thing. Oh wait, it’s an election year. How convenient!

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • sirwired

    Firstly, I disagree that the FAA –>funding<– bill is the appropriate place to pass airline consumer protection legislation. It makes no more sense to put it there than to put changes to criminal law in the bill authorizing the FBI.

    I think that the luggage fee provision is still weak. I don't see why they shouldn't be held to the same standard we hold express package carriers. If they are going to charge to transport the bag, it should arrive on the same flight you do (or earlier), or you get a refund. 24 hours is far too generous. The only exception I would give would be if, for whatever reason, there was less than X minutes between your flights.

    There's "no credible evidence" reducing the number of seats on the plane would increase prices? Seriously? I find it baffling you continue to insist this. Is arithmetic not sufficient? The amount of pitch increase you are calling for would reduce aircraft capacity by about 15%. With load factors regularly running over 90%… well, you can't have an average load factor of 100%, and the airlines aren't going simply absorb that revenue drop; they are going to pass at least some (probably most or all) of it on to customers. (And width increases? On a narrowbody, that's not even remotely feasible. Neither major aircraft manufacturer has a totally-new narrowbody on the horizon, which is what would be required to increase fuselage width, and you certainly can't drop a column of seats from an aircraft with only six (or five!) of them. Unless you hate your money THAT much.)

    I can't figure why the FTC hasn't taken action on Hotel Resort Fees yet, unless there is some internal questions going on about jurisdiction (traditionally hotels are regulated on a state level, but travel bookings happen on an interstate level.)

  • JewelEyed

    Unless airlines have dropped their prices for flights to match the precipitiously falling price of oil, I think Chris is right. It doesn’t have to affect price.

  • sirwired

    They ain’t gonna take a 15%-ish hit to their inventory for free, anymore than a retailer would shrug off 15% of their store being roped off.

    When fuel prices are high, airlines generally lose money proverbial hand over proverbial fist. In an industry with a major cyclical cost, high profits are what you expect when costs are low in return for some of those costs being absorbed by the company when they are high; flyers can’t have it both ways.

  • JewelEyed

    I thought they were making major bank by nickel and diming. I feel like I’ve read that over and over again.

  • sirwired

    They are. But to nickel-and-dime passengers, you gotta actually have passengers. The capability to carry 15% fewer of them is going to hurt one way or another. Would fares (or total per-passenger revenue, I suppose) increase 15%? No. But they certainly aren’t going to stay static.

  • Cathy_Disqus

    I don’t consider myself an airline apologist, but I’m confused about why airlines should be required to include taxes in their fares. We don’t expect stores, restaurants or hotels in the U.S. to include taxes in their posted prices. Why are airlines different from all other commercial transactions when it comes to quoting prices?

    I’d be perfectly happy if fees that are calculated on a per-passenger or per-dollar basis and paid directly to a government body were required to be listed separately. This prohibits stupid airline fees like fuel surcharges and mandatory check-in fees from being excluded, but it also allows passengers to know how much of a burden the government is putting on us for their own stupid fees for security, facilities, etc. Those are going to keep growing and nobody’s going to fight them if airlines are required to keep hiding them from us.

    By the same logic, I completely agree that it’s ridiculous that hotels are allowed to hide resort fees. If they keep the money and the customer is required to pay it, then it’s part of the rate and they should be required to fully disclose it when they quote a price for the room.

  • MarkKelling

    The airlines are not being asked nor or they currently required to include taxes or mandatory fees in their fares, they are required to advertise the total price including those taxes and fees. This is a subtle but significant difference. Fuel purchases in the US are done the same way — the price you see advertised includes all the taxes and mandatory fees.

    When you purchase a plane ticket, the receipt breaks down exactly what you paid for airfare and each of the various taxes and fees that were part of that total price. It is very easy to see what each item contributed to the cost and since these are mandatory extras you will pay them no matter what. This is different than purchasing items at your local Walmart where you know (or should at least be aware of) what the local tax rate is and can mentally add this in. I feel that hotels and other travel related industries all should be required to quote total price like airlines are because of the multiple additional taxes you are required to pay. Also, resort fees should be included in the advertised prices if it is mandatory.

    I doubt any traveler out there can even guess what the total taxes and fees are on a plane ticket because a lot of the total price depends on the airport fees charged by each airport that makes up the route. When you are searching for a flight, don’t you want to known that total you will pay instead of having to possibly search through multiple web sites and go through the booking process up to the point where you are shown the actual total for each airline? Having the total pice presented right up front saves a lot of time and effort.

  • MarkKelling

    Not defending airline pricing (because I would like lower fares too), but there is a lot more in the price of a plane ticket than just fuel costs.

    Airlines had been losing money by the billions since 2001. During that time frame, they constantly reduced in-flight amenities, customer service, buying of new planes, and cut corners every where they could. Unfortunately most are still in that mode. There are signs that this is changing: United serves FREE snacks in coach again! Most airlines are now replacing old planes. United is buying around 10 new 737’s a month to replace their decrepit 757 and Airbus planes. AA is doing a similar fleet upgrade. Many have had to renegotiate contracts with their various worker unions. All of this costs a lot. And the airlines are trying to stash away a few (billion) dollars to tide them over during the next difficult time period. After all, airlines are for profit companies and not public mass transit.

    Does this excuse what it appears to be their overwhelming greed? Not to the average person. Especially when you see air fares going UP on routes you regularly fly. Example: The route I fly routinely on UA has had discounted business seats for $800 advance purchase round trip for quite a while. This recently went up to $1,200 – each way! So how can the airline justify raising this fare 300% in the current profitable environment? Because they can! Also, other airlines (Frontier, Southwest, and AA on this route) have cut the number of daily flights raising the demand for the remaining seats.

    So reducing the number of seats would definitely raise ticket prices.

  • Tanya

    I agree, the taxes should not change whether I buy from Southwest or American if the price is the same. So, I too, do not understand why taxes must be included in the fare. The other required fees that the airlines themselves charge, yes. Taxes should be separate. I don’t find that this harms the consumer. It just lets the federal government hide the taxes. I also think oil prices at the gas stations should not include the tax in them, but Uncle Fed doesn’t want all of us to know how much we are really paying to the oil companies vs. to the government.

  • 42NYC

    Here’s where I’m confused……folks on this board are against resort fees, they dont want these bundled services mandatory as part of their lodging. They’d rather pay for what they use and not for what they dont.

    Then…..folks on this board are against bag fees, seat fees, change fees, etc…. they’d rather pay the price for a ticket and not be ‘nickled and dimed’ for extras.

    Which is it? Do you prefer basic a la carte pricing or a higher price with some extras included.

  • Michael__K

    Firstly, I disagree that the FAA –>funding<– bill is the appropriate place to pass airline consumer protection legislation. It makes no more sense to put it there than to put changes to criminal law in the bill authorizing the FBI.

    Is the funding bill the appropriate place to pass the airline lobby’s legislation?

    For various esoteric political and procedural reasons, this is all too often how the sausage is made. Lobby groups have no qualms to use funding bills to advance their interests (not just with FAA authorization bills, but even with FBI & ATF authorization bills). If consumer interests aren’t promoted as part of this process then they won’t be promoted at all.

    There’s “no credible evidence” reducing the number of seats on the plane would increase prices? There’s “no credible evidence” reducing the number of seats on the plane would increase prices? Seriously? I find it baffling you continue to insist this. Is arithmetic not sufficient?

    So how much higher than the competition are Jet Blue’s prices (inclusive of ancillary fees)?

    Depending on the shape of the demand curve, reducing supply MAY increase prices, or it MAY cut into margins and/or volume — or any combination of these.

  • Michael__K

    As Mark pointed out, taxes for the same departure point and destination do differ — sometimes substantially — depending on the routing and other variables that will not be apparent to the typical consumer.

    This is very different from sales taxes where the tax rate is identical across all the competing products.

  • sirwired

    I never claimed that stuff pushed by airline lobbyists should go in the funding bill either. Funding bills should be used for funding, and policy bills should be separate.

    To answer your question about JetBlue: As of 2014, the latest year for which data is available, their total expense and revenue per occupied seat-mile was about 9% higher than Southwest’s. (It’s hard to compare JetBlue to the “legacy” airlines, because they offer (expensive) business/first class, and JetBlue doesn’t.) So by this data, you do, indeed, pay for that legroom and those amenities.

    And, not-coincidentally, also in 2014, investors and management noticed the higher expenses and fares and JetBlue is now dropping legroom down to approx. Southwests’s level.

    The supply cut Chris is calling for is SO drastic, that ANY business would choose to raise prices at least somewhat. As I’ve already stated, it wouldn’t be a straight 1-to-1 change, but it is wholly unrealistic to expect the change to fares to be zero.

    Much of Spirit/Frontier/Allegiant’s business model is built on those sardine-can seats; even WITH ancillary fees included, Frontier and Allegiant’s revenue per flown mile were the lowest of any airlines my data tracked, meaning if you want to fly cheap, the ULCC’s are the (painful) way to go. You remove their competitive advantage of the tight seats, they are gonna raise prices (if they even stay in business.)

  • sirwired

    Firstly, the airlines are NOT required to “hide” the taxes from you. The requirement says ONLY that on initial fare display, the total all-in price must be the one most prominently displayed. The airline is more than welcome to post the amount of the taxes, as long as it’s a smaller type-size than the all-in fare. Heck, after initial fare display (say, on the NEXT screen in the booking process) they can make the taxes as prominent as they want, filling the screen with the amount if they so choose.

    It has to do with the tax structure for airline travel. If it was just a straight 7% or something sales tax across the entire country, it’d make sense not to include them. (Just like we don’t include city hotel taxes in quoted room rates.) But the taxes for a ticket can vary wildly, especially for a connecting route. For example:

    Take three routes offered by different airlines to get from, say, Washington DC, to Key West, FL, only with the Base Fare:
    DC -> Miami -> Key West $100
    DC -> Fort Lauderdale -> Key West $103
    DC -> Key West $105

    Let’s say you are pinching pennies: you are going to reflexively choose the route through Miami. But this is highly misleading because the direct flight will in fact be the cheapest in the end because of a reduction in taxes (which are commonly assessed on a per-segment basis.) And the route through FLL will be cheaper than MIA because MIA is one of the most expensive airports in the country.

    Including taxes in the “rack” rate is by no means unusual. Other items with unusual tax structures (tobacco, alcohol, and gasoline) have the almost all the taxes included in the “shelf-price”. (Although gasoline does include sales tax, while the other two do not.)

  • sirwired

    Like the great Detective Columbo… One more thing…

    This site has, on multiple occasions, argued that airlines are keeping prices high by restricting supply, along with making dark intimations that multiple airlines promising “capacity discipline” is evidence of anti-trust violations. (The airlines will readily admit to restricting supply and propping up fares as a result, but so far zero evidence of illegal collusion has appeared.)

    If the site is going to argue that “capacity discipline” is increasing airfares, it is disingenuous to then say there is “no evidence” that an industry-wide seat reduction of 15% would increase prices.

  • Michael__K

    You didn’t address the stuff pushed by airline lobbyists one way or the other. But when your outrage is selectively directed towards the consumer protection provisions (which represent a puny portion of the tangential proposals attached to the funding authorization bill) — and particularly when you suggest (incorrectly) that this does not occur with other federal agency authorization bills — that promotes an entirely false impression of what is going on here.

    Your statement about Jet Blue is extremely misleading. Their revenue advantages by some measures over Southwest are not only a fairy recent development but are entirely an artifact of their new luggage fees, which is a separate animal from seat size. If you use PRASM (which excludes the luggage fees), it’s Southwest that has the higher margins ( http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/10/28/unit-revenue-pressure-wont-hold-jetblue-down-for-l.aspx ).

    If you want to include all ancillary fees, Southwest’s RASM is only 3% higher than Spirit’s and Jet Blue’s is only 7% higher ( http://www.oliverwyman.com/content/dam/oliver-wyman/global/en/2014/nov/Airline_Economic_Analysis_Screen_OW_Nov_2014.pdf ). Even if we assume (unrealistically) that 100% of that difference is attributable to seat pitch and none of it has to do with other factors (like customer service, wifi, et . al.), that hardly forebodes apocalyptic price increases if the SEAT Act were to pass.

  • sirwired

    The data I was using pre-dates Jet Blues luggage fees, includes all ancillary fees, and comes directly from a joint project between MIT and the DOT, and they show the revenue difference I stated.

    And, again, a government -mandated 15% coach inventory cut is hardly trivial. It would not be apocalyptic for the industry (although it probably would put the ULCC’s out of business), but it certainly would not be free either.

  • Michael__K

    MIT’s data shows Southwest with higher PRASM than Jet Blue in 2014 and also historically.

    Maybe you are referring to their PRESM heuristic which attempts to adjust for stage length. But that merely demonstrates that some of this is comparing apples and oranges. The shorter/drivable routes which are more closely associated with Southwest probably have different supply/demand effects from the generally longer routes offered by Jet Blue.

    The stage lengths for routes offered by the ULCC’s might be somewhere in between, but probably closer to Southwest. Which suggests around 3% to 7% as an upper-bound over-estimate for a potential price increase. You seriously believe that would put ULCC’s out of business?

  • S363

    Folks on this board are against MANDATORY resort fees. When resort fees are mandatory folds CANNOT “pay for what they use and not for what they dont (sic)” though they certainly would rather do that!

  • 42NYC

    That’s exactly my point. You don’t want resort fees to be mandatory and would rather pay for what you use.

    In the same vein, you are against optional bag fees, optional seat assignment fees, optional change fees.

    If airlines charged an extra $100 but allowed for free bags and free drinks and free changes people would also complain about not wanting to pay a bag fee since they can travel with carry on only. Or not wanting to pay for change fees because their plans never change.

  • BMG4ME

    Then there are the parts that aren’t getting the publicity, like the ban on voice communications (over wifi), while foreign airlines are finding new ways to make this possible. I don’t believe that the majority of people want the the government to legislate on something just because a few people are obnoxious (with loud talking on the phone). Why not make it illegal to pass wind on a plane? No I don’t really advocate for that but to me it would be the same sort of law as banning phone calls.

  • sirwired

    You aren’t looking at the right statistic; you need to primarily be looking at Yield (which shows revenue per occupied mile.) (Alas, Yield doesn’t include fees, but JetBlue and Southwest are fee-light airlines.) Available Seat Miles are a good measure if you want to know how efficient an airline is, but Yield measures how much the tickets actually cost.

    Also, I think you are being a little cavalier in discarding the adjustment for stage length. It’s a valid adjustment to make, even if you can argue about it’s effects on different markets.

    The pitch Chris regularly argues for is a return to the halcyon days of 35″. For the ULCC’s, that would be an inventory reduction over 20%. (I just checked Spirit, and on their A321’s, it would reduce economy capacity by 25%. It’d reduce it by 45% if we take the suggestions for seat width seriously.) So yes, I think that 20% reduction would put the ULCC’s out of business (or at least force them to change their business model.) Their model ceases to make any sense when their primary competitive advantage (cramming in passengers like sardines vs. other carriers) is removed.

    I’d never personally fly a ULCC, but like Greyhound has its place, ULCC’s have theirs.

  • Michael__K

    If you prefer Yield, Southwest is ahead of Jet Blue by an even larger margin (which defies your assertions above): http://web.mit.edu/airlinedata/www/2014%2012%20Month%20Documents/Traffic%20and%20Capacity/System%20Total/Total%20System%20Passenger%20Yield.htm

    Adjusting for stage length makes sense for certain purposes, e.g. to factor certain unavoidable structural/operational costs. But that does NOT adjust for the higher structural costs of squeezing more seats together (more seats means more FA’s, more fuel, etc.).

    If we are focused here on the extent to which prices might increase if ULCC’s removed seats and moved closer to non-ULCC aircraft capacities, and we agree that the ULCC’s stage length profiles are within the range between Southwest & Jet Blue, then adjusting for stage length is inappropriate here.

    I don’t recall Chris ever arguing for 35″ seats. He’s pointed out that full-scale evacuation testing in the U.S. hasn’t been attempted with seats closer than 31″ (in Europe the A380 was tested with 30″ seats).

    Neither the SEAT Act nor the FlyerRights.org petition Chris has cited impose ANY specific seat pitch at all. It just gives the DOT the authority and a mandate to study the issue and establish minimum seat standards consistent with passenger safety.

    They might well establish the same minimum standards as the UK (which decided on 28″ as the minimum), or perhaps some other standard– we don’t know.

  • sirwired

    You are right; I got the Southwest and JetBlue lines backwards on the yield chart; don’t know how I did that.

    Chris himself argues for a return to pre de-regulation comfort and customer service (but not fares) on a rather frequent basis.

    As far as evac testing goes: Cabins with the tightest pitches indeed haven’t undergone full-scale tests. But they have undergone tests of the tighter pitch using section of the cabins (and limits on the exit doors, of course.) If the cabin is, say, neatly divided in two, it’s not an invalid test to test just the back half, since there’s no reason to think the front half is any slower. (It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the sort of figuring they do when deciding if a dangerous and expensive full-scale test is needed.)

  • Michael__K

    My reading of this column is that Chris has advocated in very general terms for more comfort and a better customer experience. I don’t recall where he argued for a specific minimum seat pitch or for rewinding to a particular year.

    Can you cite exactly what partial tests were performed with sub-30″ seats and when? I couldn’t immediately find anything. According to the sponsors of the SEAT Act, some of the aircraft operating with 28″ seats have not had any testing at all (I read that to mean not even partial tests)

  • sirwired

    I’m not aware where they are getting their data about no tests under 31″ being conducted, because FAA rules require a full-scale test for a manufacturer to increase maximum capacity by 5% or more over the previous full test. I don’t see how you could go from 31″ to 28″ without a full-scale test.

  • Michael__K

    Apparently there is a process for waivers and it appears the FAA has been granting them somewhat liberally, and relying on simulations and extrapolations from older tests, citing in part the dangers of serious injuries during testing.

    Otherwise, I don’t see how the 747-8 could have rolled out without a full scale test.

    http://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/boeing-747-8-should-run-passenger-evacuation-tests-airbus-says/

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Sirwired, logically you just said the passengers and airlines did get it both ways: When costs rose, the airlines lost money rather than simply raise ticket prices. Then the airlines got it both ways by both shrinking seats and keeping ticket prices high despite fuel prices going down.

    Bottom line is that before consolidation, it was a buyer’s market so ticket prices remained low and service levels reasonably high. Now, with fewer seats, airlines, AND more people the airlines are like the old phone company (ahh… those were the days!)

    I ran the numbers. Fuel and operating costs means that 15% of the store being “ripped off” doesn’t mean 15% is passed onto the customer. The airline has less fuel to transport that person and that bag. But even if they did, are the airlines ONLY charging 15 percent more for “economy plus”? Hmmm? For a typical legacy airline ticket RT to the west coast, at $500, does upgrade to plus only cost $37.50 one way?

    BS. Airlines are charing more, either in reduced services or raised prices, because they CAN.

    Open up the market to foreign airlines to do flythroughs like quantas. That should lower prices and raise service standards faster than anything.

  • sirwired

    I have repeatedly said that it would not be a one-to-one correlation between an inventory reduction and a rise in ticket prices, just that the rise would not be zero.

    The fuel cost for the actual passenger and their bags isn’t zero, but it’s not far from it, compared with the fuel cost to operate the plane at all. Most of the cost associated with luggage has to do with handling it, not fuel cost from their weight. (It’s unfortunate that airlines associated baggage fees with fuel costs… they were related in the sense that the airlines needed to earn more money to avoid going bankrupt paying for the fuel; they were not related in the sense it actually cost that much in fuel to transport the bags themselves.)

    And I never said they weren’t basing pricing for economy plus solely on additional cost; of course they are adjusting pricing based on what people will pay. (For the same reasons advance-purchase tickets are far less expensive than last-minute tickets, even though cost-wise a seat is a seat.)

    I maintain that no business is going to take a 15% capacity reduction and not pass a penny of it on to customers.

    Airlines are charging more both because they can, but also because it was needed. The old model of middling profits when times were good, and losses, pay cuts, and bankruptcies when they weren’t was not sustainable.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    You regret the airlines creating a misunderstanding that baggage fees was based upon recovering the cost of fuel but you quibble over the fact that a 15% seat reduction isn’t the same thing as a 15% loss and a poor analogy comparing seats to theft. But even so, I like the comparison (say, comparing an airline seat to a jar of peanut butter being swiped) in that even if the store sells the peanut butter for a buck, it’s not a dollar loss. It’s a loss of the peanut butter jar’s actual _cost_ to the store (this is how “writeoffs” allow businesses to not pay taxes. They secretly LIKE being “stolen from” and overstate the loss. Shhhhh! :-)

    Your claim that the fuel cost for the actual passenger is “not far from” zero is outright wrong. I did considerable research on this (google gscleanenergy how much gas does it take to fly you?) A fully loaded plane takes a little less than TWICE the amount of fuel to fly than when empty. I think it’s due to aerodynamic optimization. When a little weight can drastically affect fuel consumption. I even read “askthepilot” where the pilot kicked off 4 (unhappy) passengers from his smaller aircraft to add more flight time for a safe landing.

    Fuel, operating costs (Spirit charges 2 dollars to print out of your boarding pass so it has value, yes?) are NOT “zero” but if you think it is, please send me a gift card in that amount and I’ll take my wife out to dinner. :-) (Joke.)

    I do agree with you that there is a cost savings to the airline in adding seats but they are NOT passing these onto customers. Spirit, for example, could add the 15 percent back and merely then raise their fares from 100 bucks for a special to 115 bucks. But they don’t charge a mere 15 bucks to upgrade back to the regular seat, do they? Hmm?

    We appear to have come to the same conclusion though: Whether the airlines chop up your seat, or charge you more, it’s because they CAN. I do agree that the bust/boom wasn’t sustainable but we’re not yet at a healthy industry since, I have friends in the business, tell me that the pay cuts remain and the only ones laughing to the bank are the executives and the folks who are still invested in the artificially high market (It’s 2007 all over again…)

    This time the market tanks, they better not cry for a bailout.