Had the pleasure of sharing a cab recently with a Delta Airlines pilot. Naturally, the conversation turned to the horrors of modern day flying.
- oversold flights.
- jam packed flights.
- overhead bins full.
- airlines allowing people to exceed overhead luggage quantities and size.
- reclining in economy where space is tight and precious.
- being nickeled and dimed: food, blankets, pillows.
- general rudeness of frustrated travellers.
The pilot offered this observation, “about every 20 years, the airlines are in the position to make money and they’re in that position right now.”
So, I wasn’t surprised when Canadian carriers Air Canada and Westjet announced last week they’d be charging $25 CDN for checking the first bag. What surprised me was how quickly Air Canada piled on. Thought they’d use the opportunity to hammer Westjet in the PR department. Greed always wins out.
The airlines call this ‘unbundling’. Making you pay for what you ‘want’. Wanna check a bag? Pay for it. Wanna meal? Pay for it. The airlines argue unbundling is fantastic for you because it keeps flying economical by allowing them to keep fares low.
Nice try at messaging, but that’s bullshit.
A lot of U.S. and international airlines adopted this approach ages ago. Air Asia, a low cost carrier I flew with last year in Southeast Asia, offers cheap base airfare. Then, you pay to add stuff on. Want lunch? Pay. Want advance seat selection? Pay. Want VIP boarding? Pay. Check a bag? Pay. It’s unbundling to the power of 10. I didn’t mind because the base fare was inexpensive.
But that’s not the case with Air Canada and Westjet. Their base fares are not ‘low cost’.
Here’s what I predict will happen. Wanting to line their pockets even more, airlines here will begin charging people for advanced boarding. Wanna get that coveted overhead bin space? Pay $30 or $50 and they’ll let you board early. United already does this. So does American. That’s the future. So, you pay whether your luggage is in the overhead bin above you or in the luggage compartment below you.
Now, the airlines will tell you new fees can be avoided by getting their credit card, flying premium or being a frequent flyer. That’s fine for folks who have money to travel and can afford premium seats or have paid business travel.
The airlines are gouging because they’re in the position to do so. This is how the market economy works. And unfortunately if we want to fly there’s not a thing we can do about it.