You Pay to Fly

There's no such thing as a free lunch--or baggage handler--so plan your travel accordingly.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the September 2008 issue of . Subscribe »

Not long ago, buying a deeply discounted coach seat entitled you to a paper ticket, a meal and soft drink, a pillow and blanket, and a window or aisle seat. Your carrier would even stow two of your suitcases for free.

Now, as airlines struggle with skyrocketing costs, they're doing away with anything that could possibly be construed as a free perk--even baggage handling. In airline lingo, this means unbundling services. In consumer lingo, it means time to pay up.

In the foreseeable future, airlines will most likely continue to unbundle pricing as much as possible to raise revenue, says airline analyst Bob Harrell.

That means if you want a window or aisle seat in the roomier half of economy class, prepare to pay an extra $5 on USAirways, or $10 to $30 on JetBlue for four extra inches of legroom. Spirit now charges $3 for coffee, juice and soda, and your first checked bag runs between $15 and $25. On Air Canada, access to a specially trained reservations agent who has more resources to help with flight problems than a gate agent costs $25 to $35, whether or not you use the service.

So, what's a price-conscious business traveler to do? The only way around this new wave of pricing, Harrell says, is to "not check bags, use carriers that still offer these features gratis and pack a lunch." Harrell also suggests re-evaluating your travel budget to "ensure that any pricing analysis includes all charges." You may have to tweak expense report templates to accommodate new charges and amend travel policies to specify which surcharges and fees will be reimbursed.

Julie Moline is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant in New York City.

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