I bought a February airline ticket to The Big Easy. I bought it online, as we all do nowadays (whatever happened to travel agents?) I figured that they would try to squeeze a few dollars in extra charges out of me, but I was surprised that the airline had the balls to demand $25.00 for my one piece of carry-on luggage (not checked --carry on!). And then I was completely floored to discover that Frontier now adds an extra charge for a seat. Yes, a seat! A seat is an additional charge, even though an airplane is not like a subway, where you can strap-hang. Nor can you sit outside, on the wing. A seat is not a an option or goodness gracious! a luxury. And yet Frontier now exacts a few bucks for the privilege of sitting down.
Frontier, I can tell you, lacks any sense of irony.
"Would you like air with your seat."
I know we're supposed to feel sorry for the struggling arilines, but that's a myth, a canard. The airlines are not starving. The International Air Transport Association, the airlines' trade group, estimates that the industry's profits were $11 billion in 2013, will be $19.9 billion this year and will rise to $25 billion next year. (Billion!, not million.) Why so much? Because fuel costs continue to drop. And also because we passengers have become accustomed to be crammed into smaller and smaller seats and have been taught to pay extra for every glass of orange juice. And to sit .
Hey, fellow passengers! Remember when oil prices spiked a few years ago and the airlines added "fuel surcharges". Well, fuel is down. Raise your hand if you think you're going to get a "fuel rebate." Let me count the hands. Hmm. Not so many.
Where do you think the $25 billion in profits will go. I'll give you three guesses. A) Increase the salaries of stewards, baggage handlers and other airport workers? B. Lower the cost of airline travel for passengers in the economy (i.e. steerage) classes? C. Improve amenities for first-class travelers?
Shock!! The correct answer is C. According to The New York Times, improvements in service "have been directed at the airlines’ most lucrative passengers, who are flying in business class or paying for full-fare coach seats. Delta Air Lines, for instance, announced on Monday that it renamed its business section Delta One, instead of BusinessFirst, and said it would have new quilted seat covers there. American Airlines announced this week that it would spend $2 billion to improve customer experience at the airport and inside its planes. Part of that investment includes adding more lie-flat seats for business class passengers.
For the rich: "lie-flat seats," and "quilted seat covers." And what is American Airlines doing for the rest of us, the not-rich. "In the back of the plane, it introduced a class of fares called Basic Economy, the cheapest fares. Passengers with those tickets, though, will not be able to book their seats in advance and will not be able to refund or change those tickets."
It's still another example of the way the good ol' USA is becoming more and more a class-ridden society. Billions for the few, sub-minimum wage for the many. I wonder why the airlines don't go whole hog and separate passengers not by front and back of the plane, but by plane itself. Class I planes -- all sleek and shiny with free champagne supper and lie-flat qulted seats, and Class II planes -- no seats at all, just a few square feet on the corrugated metal floor. For only a few extra dollars, you will be able to reserve your very own couple of square feet. Do you think I'm imagining some sort of wild dystopian future. I don't think so. The way things are going, it's an inevitability.