Up in the Air; Mixed Reviews on Airline A La Carte Fees

June 1, 2012

By Darrin Clouse :

The old saying : “The only constant is change” has held up for centuries and is applicable to many of our daily routines. I doubt that François de la Rochefoucauld was pondering the airline industry when he came up with his famous perception of our world, but it certainly applies to recent adjustments.

Many of us remember when smoking was allowed during flights, and you could even get away with calling the flight attendant “stewardess.”  But the changes we’re experiencing these days are more related to cost, and many consumers feel they are now paying for services that they received for free in the past.

Itemizing our items

The `a la carte approach to pricing is the most widely used plan among air carriers.

In the past, certain luxuries like allowing 2 or 3 free checked bags per person, exit row seating, or serving food on board, were mostly free of charge. It’s called bundling, including services under one ticket price.

“Unbundling” or separating once expected services for an additional fee is a practice we’re seeing more and more.  It’s a good way to make it appear that a company is holding down prices, while it boosts revenues by selling some services as extras. Depending on the airline, for example, individual charges for services such as checking extra bags,can boost the fare by more than 50%.

Supply vs Demand

The airline industry is a business, of course, and when there’s a limited supply of something that customers want, it only makes sense to charge for it, so lots of things are getting unbundled from the ticket price.

Annamaria Lusardi, an economist for George Washington University points out that many ticket purchasers get angry and confused because the `a la carte system is so nebulous and confusing that they feel like they’re being nickle-and-dimed to death, or the airline is gouging the rates.

Many times people will discover a low fare on line , only to be shocked when they get to the ticket counter and find out about the additional costs that were not mentioned when they bought the ticket. Click Here to watch the report on ABC Nightline.

Check online for fine print , before checking baggage

Charging for checked baggage has become one of those common shockers, although presently Southwestern Airlines is one of the few providers that actually allows 2 free checked bags per person, many of the other airlines allow one free bag, but some don’t.

For example,according to airfarewatchdog.com ; American Airlines, charges economy passengers $25 each way for their first bag, and $35 each way for their 2nd checked bag.

Delta, United, and U.S. Air all follow suit with the American Airlines baggage fee policy.

Jet Blue breaks the mold and has NO baggage fees for the first checked bag, but then bumps you up to $40 for number two.


“As a consumer, you’re making a decision about a purchase when you don’t fully understand the price—so it’s not an informed decision,” Lusardi told Kiplinger.com.

It’s an adjustment, and we’ve been forced to make countless adjustments that were similar to this one over the years. Remember your first reaction to the idea of actually paying for drinking water?

Tell us what you think about this new trend in air travel, send us an email at The Consumer Warning Network , and we’ll post your views on our page.

Readers Comments :

Ron in MD:

I think the airlines became increasingly unprofitable soon after the al Qaeda attack of 9/11/2001. Heavy security increased the cost of flying, and all the frisking, X-rays, and invasion of your privacy (and privates) have become a major nuisance. Fliers complain about security and a-la-carte fee trickery but keep flying anyway. I think that the only way we will see the airline industry change is by 80% to 90% of fliers refusing to fly under the objectionable practices. Drive a car, take a bus or train instead. Be ready to wait a long time for the airlines and the government to \”get it\” (understand that people will not fly under such conditions). And even if the airlines never change, you don\’t care because you have alternatives.

Al Qaeda has succeeded in disrupting our flying by increasing the cost and nuisance of flying. I hate al Qaeda. But I probably will never fly again, unless flying becomes pleasant and Airlines become honest.