Oh, the irrational passengers airlines fly!

What is it about air travel that makes us lose our minds?

Just the other day, I got an email from a reader who claimed she was “outraged” by a flight delay.

The first leg of her flight from Austin to Dallas had been canceled, causing her to miss her connection to an international flight. Although her airline handled the service interruption by the book, offering a flight the following day, she would have none of it.
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Passengers say they don’t want cruise lines to adopt “a la carte” fares

Cruise lines are charting a course similar to airlines, which charge a low base fare and then add optional extras to the price of the ticket, routinely doubling the cost of transportation.

But it’s the wrong path, according to a new survey.

The poll of more than 800 travelers asked if cruise lines should adopt an airline-like fare structure in exchange for a lower ticket price. Only 11 percent of passengers said they welcomed new ancillary fees. A vast majority (89 percent) said they would prefer a more inclusive cruise fare.
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Passengers say they miss luggage-inclusive fares the most

It’s been more than two years since most major airlines “unbundled” their fares and began charging passengers for the first checked bag. And although air travelers are now paying more for their luggage than ever — $2.7 billion last year, compared with just $1.1 billion in 2008 — they are deeply unhappy about it, according to a new poll.

A survey of more than 1,000 travelers by the Consumer Travel Alliance suggests air travelers are more upset about the checked luggage charges than any other airline fee. Asked what they missed the most about air travel, 56 percent said it was the ability to check their first bag without paying extra. Roughly 20 percent said they missed meals, and slightly fewer — 19 percent — missed the ability to make a confirmed seat reservation. About five percent of respondents missed the free pillows and blankets.

“It’s almost impossible for the casual traveler to go without luggage, or even the road warriors who have to stay over several nights,” says Robin Edelston, a frequent traveler from Cos Cob, Conn. “And charging for checked luggage encourages people to cram stuff into the overhead bins when the airlines should be encouraging people to stow it in cargo.”
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Are airfares on a rollercoaster, or are they actually climbing?

This chart, which comes to us courtesy of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, is quite revealing. And at the same time, misleading.

It shows how volatile airfares have been during the last 15 years. It is also exhibit “A” for the now-profitable legacy carriers when they cry for tax breaks, government loans or try to justify one of their many new fees.

Point taken. It’s a competitive industry, as suggested by this data. Well, kinda. Airfares don’t tell the whole story.
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When it comes to airfares, you get what you pay for

Here’s a fascinating graphic from our friend Bob Herbst, who shares a few numbers about airline ticket prices that might make you wish for the good ol’ pre-deregulation days, when airlines competed on service, not price.

During the last two decades, Amtrak’s average passenger revenue per mile is up 125 percent, and commuter rail revenues have jumped a respectable 45 percent.

Meanwhile, airlines are down nearly 10 percent.

Airfares haven’t even kept up with inflation.
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Is Southwest’s EarlyBird check-in worth $10? The answer is …

swplane1Yes. Sure, Southwest’s decision to begin charging for early boarding is taking it down a slippery slope toward a la carte fees, but what a ride it is, according to passengers like Jennifer Rigdon.

What is EarlyBird? Southwest describes it as follows:

With EarlyBird Check-in, you’ll receive a better boarding position that is confirmed for your trip. Since you’re boarding earlier, there will be more open seats and overhead bin space from which to choose. Then you can sit back and relax as the other passengers board.

Rigdon emailed me shortly after Southwest’s announcement to let me know she wanted to try it. I asked her to report back.
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Should I book a vacation now — or wait?

In a word: wait. But not too long.

I’ve been getting this question a lot, and I usually refrain from making predictions. No one really knows how prices will fare.

But look at this. These are oil prices during the last three months.


This is the Dow Jones US Airline Index. Remember, stock prices reflect the anticipated future performance of a company.


Here’s the Dow Jones US Hotels Index.


So what does all of this mean? Well, Wall Street is betting that airlines and hotels won’t be as profitable in the near-term (or, perhaps more unprofitable, in the case of airlines). Combine that with lower energy costs, and it’s hard to argue that rates and fares will go up. In fact, the best deals may be just ahead.

If I were a bettin’ man, I’d wait until early 2009 to book my vacation. But don’t hold off for too long. It looks as if oil prices and the major indexes are looking for a bottom.