Passengers hate airline fees. We all know that. Airlines talk lots about how their “unbundling” streak better serves customers to only pay for what they want. But if that were true, why would you charged a fee on all options for “services” that are inherent to actually taking your flight?
Take the “choice” to pay $8 to check-in online vs. $12 to check-in at the airport? (Pulling from a European low-cost carrier example here.) If passengers are only paying for “extras”, the choice should be free to check-in online vs. $4 to check-in at the airport. That frustrating scenario alone doesn’t prove anything, but it sure makes sense when you understand where the airlines are coming from.
And where is that? Corporate Elysium: Tax Free(land)
Fees Are Free
That’s right. While airlines are desperately trying to convince us that fees make sense for the customer, no one is talking about is the fact that airlines don’t pay any taxes on money collected as a “fee”. From here the formula is a no-brainer. And it explains so much, like why airlines are very grumpy about government attempts for more transparency in advertising. Not only would such a move reveal the true competitiveness (or lack) of an advertised price, it would also highlight ambiguous fees that are there only to bulk up the tax-free portion of the sale. Take an advertisement for a “sale” on flights from the US to Europe. It might list the ticket as $99. Then the small print will say, “one-way, based on a round-trip purchase.”
We all know about that trick. But what we may not know is that the full price will look more like this: $99 one-way + $99 return + $650 “airport taxes and (unspecified) fees“. Those last “taxes and fees” are the ones airlines really don’t want to have to spell out for you. They’re handy, all ambiguously lumped together like that, aren’t they? So even if consumers were to sign a 1,000,000 man petition to put an end to airline fees, perhaps now you can better understand why there’s little point hoping. Customer perception is no match for an extra % of profits in their pocket. It’s not like Spirit Airlines thought customers would agree that up to $100 for a carry-on bag is awesome.
Their SideI spoke to someone in management for one of the majors about this, who had this to say: It is truly the only way airlines make any profit now, and they feel like they are doing it based on what customers use since it’s pay to play- so to speak…We are already one of the most heavily taxed industries in existence, [so] to start taxing fees would put a huge additional burden on the industry and …result in more jobs lost.
Not Going Anywhere
Whether you empathize with the airlines’ position or not, we would be wise to understand that unless
they become too broke to lobby against it something changes in the corporate tax code, airlines fees are here to stay. Like most corporations, they care about their customers’ opinions, but they care about their tax breaks more. I’m not saying passengers shouldn’t fight it/be unhappy/shrug (whatever’s your style, man), but it’s useful to know what you’re really up against. It’s not that airlines don’t get how much you hate it. They just don’t care. And with such a motivator at their backs, I’m not sure I blame them.