Washington, DC. – With more than ten years of flying experience (I’m pretty new if you compare me with other people), I‘m ready to say “enough is enough!”
The flying experience has changed dramatically in the last decade from better to worse in terms of customer service. In the late 90’s in my beloved Barcelona, I remember myself booking a flight ticket through a local travel agency located near to my first job. I remember also that as a potential passenger, I was required to call the agency for an appointment one week in advance. When the day arrived, I had to go and meet one of the agency workers who kindly booked my flight by using an exclusive system I had no access to (well, not just me, nobody because Internet was not yet a world-wide resource and there were no other options to buy a flight ticket but going either to an airline office in downtown Barcelona or to the airport many miles away from the city)
It is true that going to the agency or the airline office was something annoying, but once you got your ticket, you were fully informed about your trip essentials: final cost (including extra fees), row seat, window or aisle seat, or the type of food that will be served during the flight, among others — which, by the way, were all included in the price—.
Today, you can search and book your ticket through a wide variety of search engines through Internet, such us Kayak, Priceline or Expedia as some of the most used by the frequent or eventual flyers. It is undeniable that booking at your convenience is always better than waiting for an appointment. However, the today’s accepted-usual-airlines-practices are making the old times good times.
Today, passangers have to pay for almost everything — unexpected payments have become common. In fact, you have to pay for requesting a window or aisle at the beginning of the economy class, for an emergency exit (not to mention to request an upgrade even though there are seats available and no matter whether you belong to any of the categories of frequent flyer), for food at national trips, for a blanket to fight against the air conditioning, for drinks, and even for a glass of water (“we only have bottles to sell, sir”, told me a US Airways’ flight attendant during my last trip to Mexico City).
Much more surrealistic was what happened to me during an overnight flight from Bogotá (Colombia) to New York City, three weeks ago. Since I’m quite tall, I requested an emergency seat for that part of the trip. Once I checked-in at home I had to stop at the counter to check my passport because of the security regulations for flights going into the U.S. Once there, the Delta employee requested my boarding pass and asked me for 50$ fee “because you have an emergency exit and these seats are available by payment”. I couldn’t believe my eyes! “But if the ticket is already paid off!”, I exclaimed; “I’m sorry, sir”, she replied not even looking at me. Obviously, I did not pay a single extra penny and since the flight was not full at all once in the plane I changed my seat.
I know that low-cost companies have these practices all over the booking process, and maybe we could agree that this is part of their business model (among them, Spirit is by far, the most outrageous; so, that is why I banned it for any trip no matter what would be the offered price). Nevertheless, we cannot accept these abusive practices by big carriers.
A new regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation tries to protect customers against such abuses. From now on, airlines and ticket agents are required “to list all mandatory taxes and fees in published airfares and to disclose baggage fees when tickets are purchased”. Moreover, “the regulations also affect how airlines notify passengers about delays, cancelations and diversions, and impose a 24-hours grace period during which passengers can hold or cancel a reservation without payment or penalty if made a week or more before departure”.
This new regulation is a small step towards a necessary passenger protection regulation that can be used as a valuable tool against abusive practices. It is a fact that airlines are a lobby that protects their monopoly by fixing prices, dividing routes and alliances, reducing competition, and therefore, jeopardizing the free market principles.
Much more than a passenger protection regulation needs to be in force to stop the steady run of the airlines for profits at expenses of a trustworthy business relationship with their customers.
©Photo: The Boston Globe