How the Airlines Have Betrayed Us

By | October 29, 2008
WASHINGTON - JANUARY 24:  Delta Air Lines empl...

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We stole the title for this post from Chris Elliott, whom we admire as the champion of fair disclosure and fees, although we admit to disagreeing with him at times.

USA Today reported that while jet fuel is down, fuel surcharges have stuck. And this is true, although many European carriers, which often trendset fuel surcharge reductions, are reducing under pressure from European consumers.

Searching today for fuel surcharge, for example, and referencing their article, which ran yesterday, we note that Aer Lingus lowered their fuel surcharge. We find it interesting because Aer Lingus is the trendsetter on routes to Dublin, and the USA Today article refers to Delta Airlines‘ New York to Dublin fuel surcharge, USAirways‘ Philadelpha to Dublin surcharge, and American Airlines‘ Chicago to Dublin surcharge, all of which matched up with Aer Lingus surcharges out of those(Philadelphia as equivalent to Washington) cities. We predict the US carriers will follow to avoid losing business.

Rick Seaney, CEO of, claims that fuel surcharges are an excuse and airlines justify raising fares by adding to the surcharge instead of to the fare. this is true. How much these charges end up being is based on competition on the route

“Airlines are probably thinking it is better to leave an accepted charge in place — as unpopular as it may be — than yo-yo back and forth with the charges and annoy their customers all over again.” – Barbara Beyer, President of Avmark, an aviation consulting firm.

It is not the only example of how the airlines are not acting in a fair manner. Chris Elliott reported on how those booking online are subjected to a bait-and-switch. Someone would price a fare, click the buy button, and the fare would jump up, or a message would indicate it was sold out, the idea being to scramble to buy it before all fares are sold out.

Elliott goes on to detail other things of this nature airlines are doing. a few summaries.

  • Spirit cancelled service on a route. The passenger, calling to get her money back, was told by one agent it was impossible and hung up on by another one. If the airline fails to operate a route, they owe you a refund without question.
  • Due to a hurricane, one family relocated inward due to a mandatory evacuation order. The airline refused to waive the fees to change the ticket, even though they had agree to change for the storm, since the airport they were scheduled to fly out of had reopened.
  • An airline promised compensation for downgrading a passenger from business to economy, but sent none.
  • Sun Country Airlines, which is in bankruptcy, apparently pulled a discount rate from a travel agent. A passenger using this agent was called up after they paid for it and were given a confirmation and told the price had gone up and they would have to pay.
  • JetBlue Airways, whom we’ve always had more respect for, may have claimed that its Controllable Irregularity clause didn’t cover a passenger’s delay, which was due to mechanical problems. But it seems that they merely sent him a form letter and didn’t research his issue. He still awaits his compensation.
  • Being charged $400 because you put your married name on your ticket, not your maiden name, which appeared on your passport, a very common claim.

Do you want an all-inclusive fare? Lessno, who lobbied for a similar change in Europe, has a petition for the United States government to require advertised airfare prices include all taxes and fees so consumers can make informed decisions.

With bag fees though, counting as an optional charge, this might be more confusing. But unlike sales tax, which is a flat rate, there is no easy way to predict taxes and charges on airline tickets, especially since airlines pass some charges to passengers and absorb others, making them different on different carriers.

Fare transparency is an issue we can all agree about…except the airlines, who have lobbied against it with the DOT. We commented on this over two years ago.

We hope airlines will begin to operate in a fair and balanced manner. Every time the government threatens to increase airline regulation, they agree to behave, then don’t. The government should reregulate, although not to the extent they once did. We would be the first to petition for a Airline Fair Practices and Marketing Act, or some such thing.

Ultimately though, we predict we have a long way to fall before the government gets into gear. Besides, they seem to have bigger problems right now.

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