Will airline travel soon be extinct?

By   |  June 14, 2008

This week’s announcement that United and U.S. Airways will now be charging for checked bags was not a welcome one, especially as their competitors made the same announcement weeks ago.

As a passenger that always tries to check in everything possible, this is very irritating. Not only do I have to shell out more money for something that should be included in the ticket price, but now I must contend with all the frugal individuals that will try and pass everything as “carry on.” (Anyone who has ever flown knows how irritating this is.)

And it’s not just charging for checking in your bag: word is that airlines will soon start charging for seating preference and plain ol’ soft drinks for us coach chumps. This on top of the exorbitant prices charged for rubbery sandwiches and mediocre-at-best hot “food.”

So what’s going on with domestic airlines? Their justification is, understandably, based on the skyrocketing cost of fuel. But how useful is all this nickel-and-diming its passengers?

The charges aren’t a guaranteed source of income, just a potential. If people are flying coach, my guess is that they would rather put up with knees up to their chin for a couple of hours rather than pay a fee for “extra leg room.” (I’m tall, and I have already done this.) Pricey sky-high food can be avoided, and it’s always possible to simply carry on what’s needed for a trip.

So why aren’t carriers simply raising their prices so the revenue is consistent? Are they afraid of losing customers to competitors? But if everyone has the same extra fees, what difference does it make?

It doesn’t seem as if there are any easy solutions and that this problem will only get worse. But what happens then? Will airline travel become grounded or accessible to only the fabulously wealthy? If tickets become impossible to purchase, will airline travel simply become extinct?

I don’t foresee our government actually stepping in and correcting the problem, but perhaps something along those lines will be in order. Many industries will suffer if nothing is done to correct the situation, never mind the impact this will have on the average American citizen reliant upon such travel to visit family.

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