It hasn’t been a particularly good few weeks for American Airlines (AA).
To kick things off, AA was forced to scrap its policy of not allowing passengers a carry-on in its Basic Economy class due to the fact that nearly every other airline did.
We suspect AA secretly lamented other airlines not jumping on the-lower-the-bar-another-notch-bandwagon. But that’s something to chew on for another day.
That’s the Ticket
Not to be thwarted in the bar-lowering department, AA CEO Doug Parker issued veiled threats this past week aimed at doing away with changes to non-refundable tickets.
Whoa, you mean as in if I don’t travel on my exact flight I’d have to buy a whole new ticket? Yes, not a pretty picture.
Currently, these types of tickets allow changes (usually for a fee) in cases of say, real life intervening with travel plans. Parker’s plan would do make this ticket worthless. You’d be stuck buying a whole new ticket with no exceptions.
Parker would have you buying a refundable ticket if there is a chance of your travel plans changing.
Then again, some things are unexpected. Maybe you got stuck in a traffic jam or that TSA line moved too slowly. Bottom line: need to change your flight? Tough luck, buy a new ticket.
What’s wrong with buying a refundable ticket you ask.? Well, odds are they’re significantly costlier than a nonrefundable one, assuming you can even find such a ticket for sale.
Just for fun we looked at a ticket on AA from JFK to LAX in January:
While the Basic Economy fare doesn’t allow changes, Main Cabin does for a fee.
In fact, AA doesn’t even offer a refundable coach ticket that allows changes (often known as Y class) that we see; probably for good reason as these tickets often go for as much as First or Business minus the luxury.
On Good Authority
What’s ruffling Parker’s feathers you ask? For those of you who’ve been following, Congress is (still) trying to pass a comprehensive FAA Reauthorization Bill.
Apparently, Congress has commitment issues. It’s struggling to secure a long-term bill that addresses FAA funding. FAA Reauthorization was last passed in 2012 and has relied on five short-term extensions since 2015.
Nobody seems to agree what items should be in the new bill.
The latest extension expires on September 30, and House lawmakers are attempting to have a bill in place that will pass both chambers easily .
Good luck with that, as lawmakers can’t seem to agree on what amendments will make it into the legislation.
Speaking of amendments, one such amendment floating around is… wait for it… S. 1037- FAIR Fees Act, reintroduced by Sen. Ed Markey D-Mass.
This isn’t the first time similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate. In 2016 the original bill was introduced as S. 2656 by Sen. Markey.
As our readers might be aware, Senators Markey, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Tenn) recently said no fair to recent fee hikes by JetBlue and United.
The Senators challenged the airline industry to demonstrate fee hikes were directly related to the cost of providing these services.
Let’s examine S.1037 – FAIR Fees Act, a bit closer.
We applaud the FAIR acronym. Known in less condensed form as the Forbid Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees Act of 2017. S.1037 seeks to directly tie checked baggage and cancellation fees to the costs of providing the service.
In other words, if loading a bag onto an aircraft costs a certain amount, then the accompanying fee should be based on this cost and not, well, who knows…
Imagine for instance, you visit your favorite restaurant. Upon sitting down, you’re asked if you would like to see a menu. Should you say yes, you are informed viewing a menu now comes with a convenience fee of $2.
But surely, it doesn’t cost the restaurant $2 to hand you a menu. Well, you get our point.
Fees seem awfully capricious to us. For instance, why does it cost different amounts per checked bag at an airline? Does it really cost an airline an extra $10 more of labor and fuel for a second checked bag? How about over $100 for a third?
To illustrate another example, your favorite restaurant now charges $1 for a fork, $2 for a spoon and $5 for a knife.
Does it cost the restaurant more to wash spoons and knives? In this case, we’d venture to guess you’d be looking for a new favorite restaurant very soon.
We’re Not Happy Unless You’re Not Happy
It didn’t take long for the usual suspects to pooh-pooh the changes as the midnight hour for FAA Reauthorization approaches.
You can read some of their opinions published here and here. These articles love to sprinkle in terms like ‘consumer choice’ and ‘flexibility’. Last time we checked, the major airlines were working together to limit your choice and flexibility.
Although the latest instance of United matching fee increases at JetBlue may leave the carrier exposed to the competition a American and Delta have yet to announce an increase, we here at FlyersRights.org aren’t holding our breath. (Newsflash: as we go to press: surprise, surprise! Delta IS matching United and JetBlue on hiking bag fees).
Digging beneath the surface yields the sobering fact that 80 percent of US air traffic is controlled by four major airlines.
Check out this eye-opening chart at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, where American controls 90 percent of the 44 million passengers who use the facility. Choice and flexibility aren’t exactly the first words that spring to mind.
Lend a Helping Hand
You can read our opinion on the FAIR Fees Act in this letter cosigned by FlyersRights.org. Simply put, we support the FAIR Fees Act as a step to introduce transparency and accountability back to air travel.
We urge you to contact your lawmakers and voice support for the FAIR Fees Act and vote with your wallet when it comes to runaway fees.
Join us at FlyersRights.org as we attempt to restore some sanity to the world of air travel.