What’s wrong with air travel?

What’s your biggest airline problem?

That’s a question I ask almost every day, and it’s coincidentally one that a new Transportation Department panel is trying to answer.

The Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection, created by the latest Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill and established in May, is charged with reviewing current aviation consumer protection programs and recommending improvements, if needed. It has held one public meeting so far, with another scheduled for Tuesday, so it still has a long way to go before determining where passengers hurt the most.

Disclosure: I have a horse in this race. I co-founded the Consumer Travel Alliance and serve as its volunteer ombudsman. The group’s president, Charlie Leocha, is the consumer representative on the committee. Leocha maintains that the single biggest fixable problem is price transparency, or knowing how much your ticket will cost.

During presentations to the committee, other advocates for air travelers have made compelling cases for different causes, including making it easier to sue airlines and adopting tougher regulations concerning safety and tarmac delays.

If I’d made my own pitch, I’d have argued that air travelers are most frustrated by the impression that airlines seem to be able to make up their own rules with little oversight.

So who’s right?

To find out, I looked outside the Beltway, asking consumer advocates and service experts to name their top airline problem. If anyone knows where air travelers are hurting, they should.

Edward Hasbrouck, a San Francisco-based consumer advocate and author of “The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World,” says that air travelers want to know what they’re buying. Airlines could do a far better job of disclosing so-called codeshare agreements and revealing what’s included in the price of a ticket as well as the ticket terms. Air carriers aren’t currently required to reveal any of those details on your ticket. “I think those are the big issues,” he says.

Mitch Lipka, who writes a consumer advocacy column for the Boston Globe, says that passengers are frustrated with new airline fees and charges that give the false impression that they’re spending less for their flights when they’re actually spending more.

Most recently, news that some airlines are reserving more aisle and window seats for passengers willing to pay a premium prompted angry complaints that families with small children wouldn’t be able to sit together without paying extra. “That seems to have irked a lot of people,” Lipka says.

Richard Laermer, a marketing expert and commentator for the public radio show “Marketplace,” says that air travelers are weary of being hammered by fees. “Fees for legroom, fees for seat reservations, fees for being first on board,” he says. “Worse, instead of passengers knowing what the price of a ticket covers, they’re growing more confused as airlines come up with new surcharges.” Laermer wants to see the end of “us vs. them.”

So, that’s three votes for price transparency.

Look a little closer, and you’ll understand why. These new fees and surcharges affect almost every passenger’s wallet in a direct, measurable way. A decade ago, the price of an airline ticket included checking two bags, confirming a seat, paying with a credit card. If you wanted to check an overweight bag or change your ticket, you paid a little more. Today, some tickets cover none of those things; they are, to use a term popular with the airlines, “unbundled.”

It’s not the unbundling itself that’s problematic, but the way it has been executed. With only one or two exceptions, airlines have quietly removed integral components of the ticket from the base price and then buried the disclosure on their Web site. That has allowed them to continue quoting the low fares that passengers want. It has also let them profit from the public’s assumption that those fares continue to be more or less inclusive, which they aren’t.

The money that airlines make from these extra fees is referred to as “ancillary” revenue, and the airline industry is awash in it today. In two years, worldwide ancillary airline revenue jumped 66 percent, to
$22.6 billion in 2011, according to a recent survey by IdeaWorks, an airline consulting company that specializes in ancillary revenue. The industry leader, United Airlines, collected $5.2 billion in ancillary fees last year.

But United is a big airline. The real ancillary revenue leaders are the so-called “low-fare” carriers, which pile on the extras. Spirit Airlines, for example, reaps about 33 percent of its revenue from fees, making it the world’s most aggressive air carrier when it comes to extras, IdeaWorks says.

Air travelers have plenty of problems. But this one — the issue of ticket price — keeps bubbling up in discussions.

The fix seems pretty easy: Require airlines to release all their data regarding fares and optional extras and to publish those fees everywhere they sell their tickets. At the moment, they’re not required to do so; current regulations say only that their fares must include mandatory fees and taxes. Obviously, it’s not enough. The optional fees are the ones that surprise consumers and hurt their wallets.

The advisory committee should recommend that the Transportation Department adopt a rule requiring airlines to put every component of their fares on the table, for every passenger to see, regardless of how and where they’re buying a ticket. That would quickly close a shameful chapter in the airline industry’s history, in which it deceived passengers into paying more for their tickets and earned billions based on its subterfuge.

No government should allow a business to lie to its customers, even if that business is a beloved airline.

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 the new forum.

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  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Regulation forcing airlines to include a screen towards the beginning of the ticket buying process asking users what they want: how many bags to check, convenience seating, etc. would be a good start. Then every fare displayed thereafter would include those “amenities”. Can’t believe I’m calling checking in a bag, an amenity… Sigh.

  • Asiansm Dan

    The European Airlines publish and advertise the all included Airlines price why we couldn’t ?
    The government should set the minimum included in the base fare to help the fair comparison like 1checked bag, printed boarding pass, etc…

  • Nica

    I agree!

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    the biggest problem is US lawyers. The whole legal system in the US is a huge joke & who pays ? The consumer of course,

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    in the US advertised prices don’t include taxes in the majority of cases, as far I as can see. Even Mcdonald tries to flog dodgy hamburgers which don’t include tax.
    Taxes seem to be different in each state & even in different cities in some states.
    If a price is advertised, that should be what you pay.
    & tipping, what an insane concept is that ?

  • jsteele98

    What’s with all this “government oversight” “government regulation” CR*P.

    These are private companies. Get the government out of “leveling the playing field” by bureaucratic fiat and let the market place sort them out. Companies with good customer service and good policies will succeed. Companies with bad policies and terrible customer service will fail and go out of business. The marketplace will punish the bad performers.

    Stop trying to get the government to homogenize it for everyone. the market place is a much better disciplinarian.

  • Jose L Cruz

    The problem with air travel is the carriage contract. It all favors the airline and not the consumer. We are the customer, but anytime something goes wrong, we the customer get this contract pushed in our faces and asked if we read it. If I am paying extra for you to carry my bags and if you lose it, gosh darn it, you better give me my money or bag and don’t ask two hundred questions about what was in it. I paid you money for a service, you did not meet your end of the bargain,now pay up. Now, this is just one example, look at cancellation fees, change fees and everything else. I don’t fly anymore unless I have to. Instead, bought myself a nice ride and travel in style on the interstate system. I don’t get the back on my seat kicked, well I do, but they are my own kids, so it is alright. Bottom line, air travel has become an adventure, and not in a good way. Oh, don’t get me started on the TSA.

  • http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/ mytimetotravel

    Of course you should know the full price before deciding to buy. Of course, omitting taxes from the published price is also a problem with hotels. (And I agree that It’s bizarre that all published US prices omit the tax).

    However, if you had asked for my biggest complaint with (US) air travel, the TSA would have won hands down, and is why I’m more likely to take the train. The easy runner up? Seats that are too small and too close together. That’s why I fly JetBlue when possible. (And I’m neither very tall nor overweight.)

  • jsteele98

    Maybe because this is a free market country and Europe is not?

  • http://www.talestoldfromtheroad.com/ Dick Jordan

    Chris, you addressed this issue eight months ago in a post entitled “Do travelers need new federal protections?”

    In that post, you said that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) had introduced the “The Airline Passenger BASICS Act [which} would force air carriers to let passengers check one bag within weight limits at no extra charge and would guarantee certain minimum standards for passengers, such as access to free drinking water and bathroom facilities as well as the right to carry on bags and personal items for no fee.”

    What’s the status of that proposed federal legislation?

    Inspired by your story, two days later I wrote a piece entitled “Fairness in Airfares: What Should You Pay to Fly?” in which I touted a “Win-Win Airfare Fairness Act.” Here’s how I described my proposal:

    “Suppose Congress passed a law that required airlines to offer all passengers a
    fare that included all services, but allowed them to opt-out of the ones
    they didn’t want in order to fly for less?

    “Here’s an example of how my plan would work. Suppose that the
    all-inclusive fare from San Francisco to New York is $350 (includes two
    checked bags up to 30 lbs in weight each, ability to choose any seat in
    coach at the time of booking, free water, coffee, tea and soft drinks,
    and a hot meal served at your seat).

    “But the passenger can check a box to reduce the fare by these amounts:

    * No checked luggage – $50 off
    * One checked bag only – $25 off
    * No beverage service (except water provided at no charge) – $10 off
    * No meal service – $15 off”

    My scheme would require all airlines to provide the same services. It also would force all airlines include in the base airfare what currently are “add-on” fees. This would make it simple for customers to compare airfares between different airlines on an apples-to-apples, instead of the current apples-to-oranges, basis.

    For example, if United’s round-trip fare from San Francisco to New York was $350, but Southwest’s was $250, I could tell in a heart-beat which was offering the best deal.

    But my plan would also allow individual passengers to build their own “discount” fare by declining the services they did not wish to buy. So under the services pricing I’ve outlined, a passenger who didn’t care about checking baggage, or having beverage or meal service, could fly on United for $250, paying the same fare (although not getting the same services) as Southwest charged. This could be attractive to me if United had the best San Francisco-New York schedule, or if earning miles under its frequent flier program was important to me.

    Under my “Win-Win Airfare Fairness Act,” airlines would be forced to compete on the basis of service, as they had to in the days before airfares were deregulated. So if an airline wished to entice customers by offering free services not mandated under my plan, such as in-flight Wi-Fi, use of iPads, or entertainment via seatback-mounted TV screens on every flight, they could do so.

    If my “Win-Win Airfare Fairness Act” appeals to you, come November, write in my name under “President,” and elect a consumer-minded politician for a change. I guarantee it’s the only way for you to have a prayer of getting the airlines to quit gaming you on airfares.

    And if you don’t see me as the best choice for Leader of The Free (or at least Transparent) World of Airfares, write in Christopher Elliott’s name on the ballot instead of mine.

  • jsteele98

    Why should consumers get excited about fare displays not including taxes. The taxes are the same regardless of the airline, they make no difference to consumers other than the decision to go or not go at all.

  • jsteele98

    The exception here is that airline taxes are the same regardless of the airline, they are not impacted by state or local taxes.

  • Miami510

    Ahhhh………… As the poet said, “Let me count the ways…”
    Most Better Business Bureaus would censure retailers who pulled the opaque pricing which the airlines do. Bad service ranks near the top. Surly service is right up there. I’m old enough to remember the care from Pan Am and TWA in the 1960’s. Food… I won’t go into details; all of you know what I’m writing about. The added insult of paying for those snacks that formerly were “give-aways.”
    I dislike all the cute tricks that are pulled with respect to the airline avoiding regulations that seem to give travelers rights or compensation. Overbooking, flight cancellations masquerading as weather. While it’s not the airline’s fault, I’m always annoyed at the need for TSA’s work. I’m also astounded at the cost that our government is spending because of the fear of suicide bombers. The personnel and equipment must run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
    All in all, travel is less a pleasure than it was in the past.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Agreed. I, like many business travelers, often travel without checking a bag. I’d rather not pay for a service that should be truly ancilliary.

  • Ian C

    My number one problem is Airport Security. It is crazy these days. We need to return airport security to pre-2000 levels and procedures.
    I have one thing to add. An economy class ticket should be anywhere in the economy section of the airplane. They should NOT charge extra for window nor aisle. And friends/ family should be able to sit together without paying extra fees. Ultimately what has happened is the airlines (and the government) have forgotten what customer service is all about.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Your plan while undoubtedly well intention is what’s known as a negative check-off in economics,. Its often considered deceptive to consumers because it subtly encourages consumers to purchase more goods and services than they would otherwise.

    Its the same reason why car dealers prefer to haggle down from the MSRP and you the consumer should haggle up from the lower price.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    How simplistic. Blame the lawyers. Can’t we come up with something more original? Would you care to elaborate airline pricing and its lack of transparency is our fault?

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    What’s wrong with air travel? Three letters – TSA.

  • Stephen0118

    Really? How come United Airlines is still in business? They’ve gotten the most passenger complaints last year (http://travel.usnews.com/features/Americas_Meanest_Airlines_2012/). When I fly them over the holidays, they’re always packed.
    I’m all for a free market, but I think there are some aspects (nickle-and-diming for example) that the government needs to take the reins back.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I would agree with you except that you go to far. Even free market based economic theory, of which I am a major fan, accepts government oversight as needed One of the cornerstones of a free market is the robust flow of truthful information. Stifle that and the market perverts. That’s why one of the first things a market based society does is regulate its weights and measures. Without this there the market remains anemic. Assertions to the contrary are simplistic and dogmatic

    Full and adequate disclosure is required. Of course, different folks may have a different opinion as to what that means. But the concept is undisputed across the political and economic spectrum,

  • Janet Elliott

    You want cheap fares, you get what you pay for. Can’t have it both ways. I know I keep on with this mantra but it’s true. Airfares have dropped significantly over the past decade while just about every other consumable has gone up. Airplanes burn fuel but the flying public thinks it’s their entitled right to fly cheaply so the Airlines have unbundled their pricing to survive. It’s not how it used to be back in the golden days of flying. However, the pricing is much different than it used to be. You want the cheap Expedia fare, you get it. But, with cheap comes risk and paying more for the extras. Can’t have it both ways! For the life of me, what is so wrong with that? Yes, Airlines are making money with the ancillary fees but they had to do that to offset the unsustainable cheap fares. Airlines would love to raise fares and bundle everything back in but the flying public doesn’t want that. They want cheap and cheap has a downside. Airlines are businesses with shareholders. They are charged to make money. It is NOT a charity. What is so demonic about making a profit? So, to have the ability to offer ridiculously low fares, the Airlines re-tooled themselves and unbundled their pricing structure. This allows someone that wants a super cheap fare to get it but if they need an amenity, they add it on to that base price. What is so insidious about that? It’s actually not so bad since you pay for what you need/want.

    Also, I’m not getting the lack of transparency argument. Give me examples. I don’t think I demand to know where the wood came from or the vendors involved when I buy a dinner table. Why the scrutiny on breaking down each penny on a fare. Are you looking for that dubious and false charge? It doesn’t exist. Do you ask how much the mustard cost on your McDonald’s hamburger? Seriously, the Airlines are just the popular and undeserving villain by the media and especially by the incompetent politicians that latch on to attacking the Airlines for their own notoriety and ultimately for votes. Just unfair and unjust.

    BTW, there is no excuse for not treating the flying public with a lack of respect but that can go both ways. In my VERY frequent traveling, I have been shocked and disgusted at the way some of the flying public acts and dresses for a flight. Just hope I don’t have to sit next to one of those passengers with body odor wearing PJs and using a laundry basket as a carry-on. Guess you expect that if the airfare is less than taking the bus (which it OFTEN is even paying for bags). What is wrong with that picture!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I have a very different take. The transparency/unbundling issue, while potentially annoying to an infrequent traveler should be a non-issue once you’ve traveled a bit. Thus it is solveable. What’s not solveable by the individual traveler is the onerous contract of carriage.

    Arrive late, you’re screwed. Planes late, just suck it up. No hidden city ticketing, no back to backs, no throwing away the return of the round trip. This is all absolutely ridiculous.

    I can think of very few industries that are allowed to dictate the use of the goods and services after they have been fully paid for. And those rare exception are because of the personal nature of the services.

  • judyserienagy

    Disclosing all fees and the total for the tix before you buy is a no-brainer. I fly mostly Continental/United and don’t remember ever not knowing the full price of a ticket before I purchased it. I just bought tix to LA on Southwest and I knew the price before I purchased it. Are people carefully reading the screens as they go through the process of buying?
    But we’re discussing a situation that has been discussed for years. Americans want cheap flights but they are annoyed when they get a “cheap” experience. For some of us, being able to pay a fee for a bulkhead seat on the aisle is practically a necessity. That fee on top of a coach tix is tiny compared to a first class seat, so I’m happy to pay it. And remember, it’s MY CHOICE.
    I’m 5’10” but have linebacker shoulders and basketball player legs. I just flew UA in premium economy SFO-SEA … lots of leg room but my shoulders are exactly as wide as the seatback, so I was forced to sit still for two hours, as I feel the armrests belong to the poor guy in the middle seat. Leaning a little into the aisle gets in the way of the flight attendants. I tried to use my laptop but couldn’t type on it with my elbows glued to my body. I think the worst thing about flying in coach is the physical discomfort. But of course my 5′ 100# friends have no problem!

  • CTP

    Not all of the fees are mandatory. i do not need some silly simplistic “all in” fee to be required by all airlines. I’ve already “paid” for extras such as seat selection, free checked bags, and early boarding, and even a chance for an upgrade by flying many miles on a specific airline. Why shouldn’t the airline I chose feel free to “reward” me and encourage me to fly them again by offering those to me and others that fly with them often? If I choose to fly on an airline that I do not have status on it is up to me to decide how much I want those extra items and to decide if the cost for them is worth it to me. Booking travel is vastly different now compared to 15 years ago. Online sites have made it very easy to see exactly what you are getting or not getting now. Perhaps a better “mandatory” rule would be for online resale sites (other than the airline’s own site) to have a warning or link that takes them directly to the specific airline site to confirm the policies, extras, seats, etc.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    i think my biggest pet peeve is the whole “pay for seats” fee. First of all, this isn’t shown until AFTER the ticket is bought and it’s generally made evident at check-in, when you’re asked to choose a seat for your flight.

    And THEN, if you happen to have a handicap and request said handicapped seating, it throws everyone into a tizzy because those are some of the more expensive “revenue generating” seats.

    This is utterly ridiculous.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Well said. Airlines are often the whipping boy when they don’t deserve it and get a pass when they do.

    For the life of me, I don’t get the issue. A $150 ticket that includes one bag is OK. A $125 ticket with a well disclosed $25 checked bag fee is bad.

    It is truly astounding that many would rather pay more to avoid doing simple arithmetic than pay less and have to opportunity to avoid wasting money.

  • bodega3

    You aren’t paying less but you are getting less. BIG difference.
    I don’t want to think about it. Just give me one price and be done with it. I want to check my bag for free, I want a meal and I want entertainment…just like in the good old days!

  • JenniferFinger

    I have three problems with air travel:
    1) Security. Every time some crazy person figures out a new way to smuggle a weapon or explosive aboard a plane, the TSA immediately bans it. So I’m never sure any more what I can pack-and some of those things are perfectly ordinary, even necessary items. Instead of implementing bans, I think the TSA needs to find other ways to deal with potential terrorists.

    2) Recliners. Yes, I realize that the seats are reclinable and many people feel more comfortable reclining, but when they prevent me from being able to lower my tray table or get out of my seat when I need to, people who recline their seats so far back are not being considerate of anyone else on the plane-and that’s not good. I wish airlines would stop cramming so many seats so close together, or even find ways to allow people to sit more comfortably without interfering with the passengers behind them. But forcing passengers, especially those who can’t recline, to suck it up because someone in front of them couldn’t care less is obnoxious. I’ve experienced it and it really made me hate air travel.

    3) Lack of fee disclosure. Always being charged for every single thing. ‘Nough said.

  • bodega3

    I don’t care that you don’t want to pay a service. I am tired of businesses catering to the cheapies. Funny you don’t want to pay yet in your industry, you nickel and dime clients by charging basicially by the minute for your services. A basic phone call to you has a fee. Give me a break!

  • bodega3

    This ‘transparency’ that Chris and Charlie wants is there, it just isn’t in a format that they like. Take a look at any other purchase you wish to make and show me a format that gives you all the costs for that purchase, through every possible vendor. Ridiculous!

  • Joe Farrell

    why are you calling a lawyer then? Most of my clients don’t call because they want to chat about their kids or the weather – they are calling because they need the advice of a lawyer. If a client calls to tell me that their kid got engaged I’m not sending a bill – if they call because junior picked up a DUI – well – they want advice or my services. Why shouldn’t I bill for that according to the time it takes me to provide the service.

    I suppose I could then bill flat fee – every call is $100. But then I have an incentive to get you off the phone instead of provide you proper advice – thats what docs do now – they get $50 from the insurer and if they spend 15 minutes with you they just lost a ton of money . ..

    There is a very good reason why lawyers and ‘sex workers’ charge up front – because both are services that if done successfully result in an marked indifference to payment . . .

  • Joe Farrell

    MY air travel around CA/AZ/NM/NV/UT is just fine. It takes me about 3 hours door to door anywhere in California, Arizona or Nevada. No TSA. Can bring food and large bottles of water, pocket knives, guns, full size toiletries and have no effective weight limit for bags – and they never get lost. Can beat anyone flying the airlines to pretty much any destination in the above states and can actually get to the destination without much hassle. When there are 2 hour airline delays into SFO I can fly into OAK or Hayward and have zero problems with traffic delays. Sure – I don’t have air conditioning or a bathroom and its really not for everyone – but it works for me – and it could work for many more people who have an interest in general aviation.

  • MarkieA

    I agree with the principle of your arguments. However, I think the problem comes when the airlines tell us they’re charging us extra $$$ because of fuel costs, for example. Then, when fuel costs go down, the extra fees remain.

  • Raven_Altosk

    My pet peeves:

    1. Carryon bags are out of control. Ever since airlines started charging for checked luggage, people have been trying all kinds of crap to get their oversized suitcases in the overhead. Maybe if airlines included 1 free checked bag, they wouldn’t have to spend an hour trying to get everyone on board and their stuff stowed. “Carry on Jenga,” I call it.

    Perhaps I’m cranky about this now because just this week an idiot hit me in the head with a ginormous roll-a-board that somehow managed to get down the jetway. When the FA said it was too big and needed to be gate-checked, the rude woman just left it in the aisle and said, “Then you move it cuz I’m not moving it or paying for it!”

    And forget about an apology for clocking me in the head. Sheesh.

    I’m still surprised it made it past the gate agent, but maybe they decided it wasn’t worth the fight?

    2. “Emotional Support Animals.”
    If you can’t leave the house without your dog/cat/snake/rat, stay the hell home. No, I don’t care that your fake-doctor wrote a fake note so you could avoid the pet fee. I don’t want to sit next to your MFing SNAKE on this MFing PLANE!

    (Note this ONLY applies to “ESAs,” not legit service animals or pets in carriers on a relocation)

    3. Seating assignments
    I don’t like that airlines are now making people pay extra to get seats together. Not because this really affects me in the wallet, but because it causes me grief during boarding.

    I hate being asked to move so someone else can sit next to their spouse/parent/child/teen/dog/whatever. I’m easy pickins’ because I’m guy in my 30s, usually traveling alone, and generally in an aisle seat. I will trade aisle for aisle, and I’ll move in certain instances, like, for a family with a SMALL child or a special needs person and their caregiver, but beyond that, I’m the bad guy who will say “Sorry, no.”

  • Raven_Altosk

    My new favorite airline! :D

  • MarkieA

    Don’t tell me that these airline decisions weren’t undertaken without extensive consultation with the airlines’ lawyers.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Thank SMI/J for the new United.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II


    (sigh). What is cheap is the person who wants to obtain my services and expertise without paying for them. Id rather charge the person who is using my services, than raise my rates on my other clients to compensate for the soon to be ex-client who wants a freebie.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I don’t want to think about it. Just give me one price and be done with it
    Exactly, I pay more so you avoid simple arithmetic.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    We don’t come up with the systems in place, we generally ensure that they comply with the law.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    I don’t think it’s all that difficult to find out what services are included with your airline ticket and how much the airline charges for things that cost extra, and I don’t really care much about mandated disclosure formats. Only people who fly very infrequently are unaware that airlines have started to charge for meals and checked bags. It’s not difficult to avoid checking bags and avoid needing to buy food from the airline. The one thing here I can see being important is that families with small children absolutely need to be seated together, so airlines should waive seat fees for normal-priority seats when children under 12 are traveling. I will also agree with Edward Hasbrouck that hidden code-sharing is a problem – people need to know what airline they’re actually flying on in order to determine what they’re buying (for instance, frequent traveler perks only count on the airline you earned them on, so codesharing can sabotage one’s plans to upgrade or use priority customer service).

    However, the headline “What’s wrong with air travel” just screams out to be answered: of course, it’s the TSA that’s wrong with air travel. In fact, it’s the TSA’s interaction with the items mentioned above that causes people to have to pay extra fees: many people have to check bags because of the TSA’s pointless carryon restrictions, and many people wind up having to buy food and drinks after the TSA confiscates what they had planned to eat on the airplane. Without the TSA’s unwelcome interference, people could more easily avoid airline fees. Not to mention that they could also avoid TSA blueshirts ramming their hands up into their crotches and creating nude images of their children with ionizing radiation…

  • MarkieA

    That’s convenient, since “complying with the law” is a standard usually established – through much precedence – by lawyers. Lawyers don’t encourage frivolous lawsuits, Lawyers don’t write contracts that no one – even other lawyers – can understand, so you need to hire a lawyer to just about cut your grass these days. Lawyers don’t try and convince people that they’re entitled to millions of dollars because they spilled hot coffee on themselves. Yeah, I’m sure that there’s quite a few good ones out there, but, admit it Carver, your profession is chock full of low-lifes.

  • Ann Lamoy

    Amen to all of these but especially #3.

    I frequently travel alone as well and I refuse to move unless it is someone traveling with a small child or a special needs person and their care giver. If family members/friends can’t spend those few hours apart on the plane ride then their relationships is WAY too co-dependent and they need to seek immediate help.

  • Ann Lamoy

    The final price included taxes for durable goods such as clothing at retailers like Target, K-Mart, etc can’t include tax because they are shipped from a centralized warehouse for that area. Different states and even counties for that area have different taxes (or if your area happens to include a state that doesn’t charge tax on say clothing), so the attached price has to be the retail price only. And in the store, it would be too hard to put a display up with the final retail price with taxes included since most displays include different price points.

    Most Americans are aware what the tax rate is for their locality and when they travel to a different area, expect to pay more than the tagged price. It sucks for non-Americans but honestly? When I travel abroad, I check out the local customs (including tipping and shopping) and generally find out if i will need to pay more than the tagged price.

    And I do think that tipping is a concept in the US that is out of control. But the law allows restaurants to pay the wait staff much less than minimum wage. So by not tipping, you (general you) are denying that wait person a chance to earn a living wage. It’s not fair to anyone, really but it’s the way it works.

  • bodega3

    My FIL died. Unfortunately they had a lawyer handling things, which we have been able to move several items away from. The lawyer calls with a question to us and we get billed for that time. Ridiculous!

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    as soon as lawyers get involved they stuff something up.
    I mean what a joke having bill of rights for air passengers. This just leads to higher prices &/or less serives (flights & inclusions).
    Airlines want to get you from A to B, but weather & air traffic delays cause delays.
    Not their fault, but it seems, Americans are very quick to complain & ask who’s to blaim, when it maybe there own, eg. for flying with tight connections or at busy time.
    We laugh at all the frivilous law suits that seem to go on in the good ol USA.
    Unfortunately lawyers in Australia are becoming like lawyers in USA, with dodgy contingency fees & ambulance chasers.
    Where will it end ?
    Doesn’t happen in China !!!
    Think they would just take the lawyer out the back & shot him or her between the eyes !!!

  • Cyn2

    Okay, I know this is a small point, but I have to quibble with you on asking what is in your bag. While I’ve not worked directly with the bags at the airports, I have done some support work on missing bags.
    The reason you are asked what is in your bag at the time the report is made is so that if your black rolling bag shows up with the tag torn off (which happens more often that you know), and there are 3 other similar untagged black rolling bags also needing to be identified, the agent will quickly open up the bag and take a quick inventory – also not thorough, but looking for identifying and/or unique contents. If you’ve told them you have a bright green umbrella in the front pocket (or whatever), they can quickly say “that one belongs to Mr. Cruz” and get it on its way.

  • Susan J. Barretta

    The kabuki theater of security and the terribly dangerous false sense of security it engenders. Any determined terrorist who wants to can easily bypass all the groping and scanning and still hurt or kill people, and doesn’t have to be on a plane to do it, e.g., they can enlist the help of an accomplice with access to bathrooms, luggage compartments, repair hangars, etc. Not to mention very long slow lines at the airport which would make an excellent target for somebody like a Timothy McVeigh or a Domodedovo airport style suicide bomber.

    I don’t know what is the worst – this kabuki theater itself or the people who seem to swallow every terror tale they get told and are willing to put their hands up, bend over and spread ’em while TSA feels around.

    I would gladly fly with practically no luggage and would forego airline food (which is rather crappy anyway) if it meant we saw sanity restored to security. I miss the days when travelers were polite to and considerate of each other and the crew and the crew reciprocated. I haven’t flown since late 2009 and probably never will again.

  • CTP

    (accidentally hit send too soon)

  • CTP

    How are people buying these cheap airline tickets now? I would imagine it is online, or even through a travel agent. In both cases though, before they make the purchase they are made aware of and must agree to any and all fees. How simple is that? If one is trying to compare item A versus item B, it does not matter if this is an airline ticket, a hotel, a new car, or even a meal at a restaurant where you want to know if the entree includes any side dishes for goodness sakes. Doing the research before you buy is the only way to know what you are getting. Why must airlines babysit the lazy?

  • Michael__K

    Carver, I don’t disagree with your reasoning, but it usually doesn’t add up so neatly in practice. Unbundling itself costs money when the business needs to add fee collection points and figure out how much product/service to charge you for.

    The result is either that A+B+C costs more unbundled than bundled and/or that the business adopts quick and dirty heuristics to calculate unbundled charges in ways that are not necessarily equitable.

    A passenger who checks a 20 lb. suitcase from the get-go probably uses less in airline services and fuel than a passenger who tries to carry on a 40 lb. rollaway and often ends up gate checking it. Yet the first passenger subsidizes the latter. The result is a system that experienced passengers know how to game and unintended consequences like overhead bin competition and gate-checking delays that some people think is out of control.

  • bodega3

    We all pay more for less and there is still arithmetic to do if we want what we use to have at the price we are currently paying.

  • bodega3

    Because someone like Charlie Leocha wants it all in front of him in one place. He whines, over and over and over again about this. Lazy? Yes, never thought of that, but yes, that applies.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I’m sorry about your father in law. The question is who should pay for that time? Assuming the attorney is not a personal friend why would you expect a freebie?

    Several travel agents have griped, quite legitimately, about potential clients having them do work, getting a great deal, then booking the deal themselves to avoid the commission. That is unethical.

    Just as you rightfully expect to be paid for your time and effort, so does everyone else. If you don’t find the attorneys time valuable, don’t hire one.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    But that’s a cherry picked example. To be persuasive we would need to have some numbers and behind the scenes experience to quantify the situation. I learned this the hard way after getting completely schooled in a discussion about hotels and corporate discounts. How a company which guarantees its employees will spend X hotel nights per year can get a better rate than a business that wants say twice as many hotel nights per year.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I don’t get the code share issue. Anyone with enough frequent flier experience to qualify for perks is an experienced enough traveler that code shares shouldn’t mystify them. I mean, I dealt with code sharing as a stupid teenager, I think a college sophomore,. It really wasn’t that traumatic.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II


    Obviously I know tons of attorneys. Most are people of excellent morals and character. There are of course the lowlifes who just want to make a buck. This is true in every field. We don’t like dealing with them any more than you do because it makes conversations like this necessary.

    Regarding McDonalds, I would recommend that you get the facts.

    The McDonalds case was about McDonalds purposely selling coffee 30 degree hotter than industry standard to increase McDonald’s profits. Hotter coffee means it stays above the discard threshhold longer, i.e. less wasted coffee = more profit. Most fast food coffee is sold at 160ish degrees, this was almost 200 degrees. The boiling point of water is 212.

    McDonalds had received numerous complaints. The plaintiff in that case wanted to settle for a a little over her hospital bills. McDonalds refused thus she had a choice of either suing McDonalds are being out thousands of dollars in medical bills.

    She was a 70 year old woman who received third degree burns to her lady parts. Thats right, third degree burns to her lady parts.

    The jury, who listened to all the facts ( and not just sound bites), were so outraged by McDonalds conduct that they awarded a high sum (admittedly to high) to punish McDonalds.

    Hardly a frivolous case. McDonalds spin doctors have been working overtime since then.

  • Joe Farrell

    How do you think he gets the question answered? Do you want him to guess? Or do you want him to spend three hours looking through documents or charge you for a 10 min phone call?
    I know lawyer hating is blood sport but if you would think about it for a moment – you might see that he is charging you less than not calling you would cost . . .

  • MarkieA

    I do indeed know the facts of the McDonald’s case; hence the reason I referred to it in the abstract – in order to illustrate my point – instead of directly. I also don’t really think that I need to consult a lawyer in order to mow my lawn, either. You didn’t think I meant that one literally, did you? Taking one of my points – a point I meant as illustrative – and using it to try and discredit the entire train of thought while ignoring the other points is, well… very lawyerly of you.

    I will get more specific if you want; I lay a ton of blame for our huge medical costs in this country squarely on the lawyer community. Without ridiculous lawsuits aimed at the medical professionals, doctors – especially those in the OB/GYN fields – wouldn’t need to spend outrageous sums of money on malpractice insurance. This, in turn, leads to exorbitant medical insurance costs for you and I.

  • Joe Farrell

    Guys – people ASK lawyers whether they can do what they want to do – the decisions are made by airline management after the lawyers give them the parameters of what they can get away with – the lawyers don’t MAKE the stupid decisions . . . .

  • Michael__K

    Another entitled customer who screwed up, didn’t read the contract, didn’t ask the right questions at the critical time, and then expects something for nothing.

    This is what happens when you use the DIY method or free online resources to find the right attorney. If you used a brick and mortar professional attorney referral service, then you would know what fees to expect and when.

    </sarcasm> <!– just in case it wasn’t obvious –>

  • Michael__K

    I’m all ears if you prefer different example(s).

    When equitable un-bundling requires setting up new fee collection points or new customer information collection points (which I think is the case for most though not all of the recently added airline fees) then I don’t see a way around the dynamics I described.

    It works better for customized product purchases (like computers or cars) because the custom option selections and the payments are collected all at once (and product delivery is all at once) .

  • bodega3

    People don’t mind pay for a service, But when someone doesn’t know what they are doing, or doing it well, you do mind the charge. It applies to any profession.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    Since when is asking a question indicative of not knowing what you are doing? If the question was legitimate then it was a proper charge. Its often faster, aka cheaper, to ask than to sift through mountains of papers which may be outdated.

  • IGoEverywhere

    De-Regulation back in the Jimmy Carter range originally began the destruction of today’s airlines. Re-regulation will never happen. There are too many freedom of ?.@#$#@@ acts to allow it to happen. Why are travel agents making a comeback, because we are tending to keep up with all of this crap. What we don’t do, it teach it to the internet people to circumvent us. I have had not one complaint about our travel information re: flights, carry-ons, seat charges, seat locations. I listen at the airport to all of the displeased people, but travel agents save trips, and if you are too cheap to pay for one, then live with what the airlines decide that they want to give you.

  • Kyle Cline

    @twitter-54321804:disqus ‘s is the first comment on here that actually makes any sense.

    Ever heard of regulatory capture? It’s a technique used by large corporations to engender government regulations that either block or inhibit potentially competitive firms from entering a given market. This is exactly what is going on in the airline industry (among many others). All government intervention can do is stifle competition. Increased competition leads to falling prices, enhanced services, and an overall more responsive environment to consumers’ demands. It’s getting old quick hearing pseudo-intellectual diatribes about unsophisticated and unrealistic consumers. By and large, people’s marketplace expectations are informed and spot-on, despite an overly vocal minority asking for the sky.

    @yahoo-OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE:disqus While you are correct that “the robust flow of truthful information” is a cornerstone of a free market, to say that such a free market necessitates government oversight is a fallacy, straight from the Keynesian horse’s mouth. Given an /actual/ free economy devoid of government’s so-called “protections”, information is propagated by the market itself, or through auxiliary markets. Which “truthful information” is even useful to consumers and/or firms? Only competition can provide an accurate answer.