Why do airline executives hate their customers? Not so very long ago, airlines boasted about flying "the friendly skies," but that happy slogan has now been perverted into flying "the abusive skies."
For example, what does a ticket cost? The airlines won't come clean even on this basic question. We do know that stated ticket prices have been steadily rising, with double-digit increases in the past year.
But that price is merely the starting point for today's airline hucksters. The real gouging is in the frenzy of fees that airlines have invented, many of which are not even disclosed to us and most of which are simply unwarranted. Last year, airline fees totaled nearly $8 billion — a consumer subsidy siphoned right out of our pockets into the corporate coffers.
Take the "ticket change" fee. If something comes up, forcing you to change a flight from the one you'd booked, you're hit with a service fee of $150. Plus, you must pay the difference if your new flight is priced higher (which it will be). What a ripoff! This rebooking "service" is done by computer, costing the airline more like a buck-fifty, rather than a hundred and fifty. Also, notice that airlines themselves routinely cancel or delay our flights, forcing us into inconvenient and thoroughly unpleasant travel changes — yet they don't pay us $150 for their changes.
American Airlines, however, has generously offered to cut its rebooking fee in half — if you pay a "flexibility" fee of $19 when you book your flight. Then, any changes you need to make later will only cost you $75. Yes, it's a fee to reduce your fee!
These nasty gouges are infuriating and unnecessary. Southwest Airlines, for example, refuses to charge for any service that's historically been free to customers — and Southwest has consistently stayed profitable.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.