Anti-Consumerism Taking Off

Originally posted on

Lately I’ve been encountering more and more gestures that feel anti-consumer. The worst offenders include, unsurprisingly, the airlines. Anyone who has been on a plane in the past decade knows that flying isn’t what it used to be, but recently it seems as if it has turned into nothing less than a race to the bottom: Which carrier can alienate its customers the most? How can they make the experience even more miserable? Who can treat passengers the worst?

The days of free snacks, blankets and earphones are long gone (though you can keep those utterly disposable earbuds “for a future flight”). Now airlines are cooking up ways to monetize things that were once considered basic human rights, or at least basic components of flying. And to make things extra difficult, they won’t take cash for them.

US Airways made headlines two years ago when it started charging for water (six months later, it ended that practice). Last month, Ryanair went a step further when it announced—in its in-flight magazine, of all places—that it was considering adding fees for using the lavatory. (As if people visit airplane facilities for the fun of it!) Spirit Airlines was quick to spin the news into a press release announcing that it didn’t have plans to levy lavatory fees—like allowing customers to attend to basic physical necessities makes it some kind of corporate hero.

That’s especially rich coming from Spirit, which now charges passengers as much as $45 for their carry-ons. The airline claims the surcharge lowers the total cost of flying, but it feels like a slap in the face to be charged extra for something that’s not really optional; you’ve got to take luggage with you. Why not just include it in the ticket price?

It’s not just Spirit, of course. Even as the hotel industry is moving toward more inclusive pricing (consider the rise of the luxury all-inclusive resort), airlines are taking an increasingly nickel-and-dime approach. While every other industry in these recessionary times has been throwing in value-adds, airlines have been adding fees wherever they can.

Baggage is a prime example. The Independent Traveler recently published a comprehensive guide to luggage fees for bags that are checked, carried on or, heaven forbid, heavy. Pretty much all the major carriers are charging something, and some are going up to $600 for an overweight bag—and that’s not even for a round trip.

Airlines are also charging as much as $25 for the privilege of making a reservation by phone. As Independent Traveler points out, a four-minute call to book a ticket works out to $375 per hour. Air Canada is charging an extra $25 to $35 per booking for “speedy” service from “specially trained” agents. Aren’t “speedy” and “specially trained” basic principles of customer service?

And then there’s the extra money they expect us to pony up for a seat. Surcharges for the extra legroom of exit rows or the first-off-the-plane convenience of the front of the cabin seem somewhat justifiable, but I can’t say the same about the extra $6 to $20 airlines such as AirTran and Spirit (again!) are charging for any reserved seat assignment at all. Consumers are forced to choose between opening their wallets and getting stuck with the middle seat in the back or risking getting bumped (because people without assigned seats are the first to be bumped from overbooked flights).

But these days, not being able to fly doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

May 28, 2010 | Posted by in Insights, Trends | 3 comments

Comments (3 Responses)

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Paula Gray, Euro RSCG Brussels. Euro RSCG Brussels said: Anti-Consumerism Taking Off > rss EuroRscgWwbloG […]

  2. David Locke says:

    Two our to the last three times I’ve flown, someone else paid for the flight. I don’t have to be there tomorrow, so I’ll drive. The cost of gas may exceed the cost of an airline ticket, but while you are a terror suspect in the TSA line, I’m out on the road. I go out of my way to route through places I’ve never been. Life is good.

    The time I paid for the flight, I got hassles before I got into the TSA line. I was amazed. The gate didn’t open for three more hours, so I couldn’t get a ticket and couldn’t get into the terminal to get some dinner. I didn’t know that the international terminal at LAX was organized so that the TSA line protects only the gates, not the whole terminal. One less reason to fly.

    Was I eliminating consumerism? No. I was eliminating the TSA and airlines from my life. The recession and its incipient has eliminated consumerism, except for groceries expressed in terms of what vegetable, or omelette ingredient can I buy for 38 cents.

    I intend to remember this once I’m back in the money again, but I do know that I never recovered from the dot bust, and may not recover from this bust. I’m at the end of the road. There are no stores, museums of a life lived that way, but no stores. I didn’t decide not to consume. I just don’t have the means to do so.

  3. Tamilla Mamedova says:

    Wow, I wasn’t aware that the American airlines were charging their customers for the most basic things. Reading this makes me breathe a sigh of relief that I currently live in Europe… Thank God for THY, Lufthansa and Emirates comfort :)

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