Bigger Butts, Smaller Seats
Cheaper Fares, Bigger
By Bob & Sandy Nesoff
The first time we flew, shortly after the Wright Flyer made its maiden voyage, air travel was a comfortable and fun experience. Aircraft had a lounge and there were actually swivel chairs around a table where passengers could play cards or socialize.
Along came the 747 with its bubble top that was used as a lounge and bar area. Again it created a social area. That bubble soon burst when the airlines realized they could add more first class seats in the lounge area and make more money than by providing booze to the passengers already paying through the nose for the better seats.
Then the gods of air travel created People Express, the uber inexpensive airline. They didn’t even issue tickets, preferring to have potential passengers line up to board. The line moved so long as seats were available and those remaining had to hope another flight would be forthcoming.
Some of this is coming under official scrutiny as government agencies are looking into the growing size of the derriere and the shrinking size of seats and the pitch between seats.
In order to add more seats most airlines have moed seats closer together side-by-side and from front to back. While a small handful of carriers still offer a pitch (knee room) of about 31 inches, many have shrunk that to an incredible 28 inches forcing long-legged passengers to jam their knees into their throats.
Then came the “passenger-be-damned” attitude of too many airlines.
People Express was a boon for the ordinary traveler who was looking to save a couple of bucks. It offered economy service with absolutely no amenities. People were able to afford to travel. That being said, People Express made its passengers feel comfortable and wanted.
That airline was followed by Kiwi Airlines, a carrier created by former air personnel of the late lamented Eastern Airlines. Kiwi was noted not only for its inexpensive fares, but for rarely ever being on time. Its small inventory of planes caused serious backups when any problem arose. On one flight to and from Newark/Atlanta/Newark the outgoing flight departed six hours late. That caused the return flight to be—you guessed it—six hours late. Soon after, Kiwi disappeared from the skies.
Today we have the likes of Spirit(less) Airlines. If ever there was an airline that landed on our “least favorite carrier,” it would have to be Spirit.
There is no argument that Spirit’s base fees are amongst the lowest in the industry, closely followed by Allegiant. A recent survey by Condé Nast placed these two at the top of the list for nickel and diming passengers.
While their fares are rock bottom, by the time you finish paying ancillary fees (i.e. extra leg room, checked bags, reserved seat) you could end up paying more than $100 above your ticket price. These fees accounted for 46.4% of Spirit’s revenues and nearly the same percentage for Allegiant.
About the only things these low fare carries don’t charge for are seat belts and breathable air.
In all fairness United Airlines, one of the world’s major carriers, flew 31% fewer passengers than American, but earned 27% more in these ancillary revenues. And United was the only major carrier to make the top 10 list of airlines that charge the most fees.
Since the advent of People Express virtually every airline flying today has begun charging for things that in the past were both expected and free. Do you want a snack or a meal? Whip out the credit card. Extra legroom? Get the card out again and pay a hefty fee for the comfort. Any kind of snack? Fuggedaboutit.
Most of the major airlines will provide meals on extended routes such as non-stop transcontinental, trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific. As a result many of the places in airport food courts are doing a booming business selling salads and sandwiches for those foodless flights.
Most of these fees came about following the skyrocketing of fuel prices when airlines felt they couldn’t raise fees to match expenses. They began to slowly add ancillary fees for checked luggage. Then came fees for sitting in extra legroom seats. On the heels of those added charges came credit card meals.
But only a small handful of airlines charge for carry-on. Spirit is one of those not-so-illustrious carriers. You might beat the system by layering your clothes so that you are wearing a weeks worth of threads. OK, so that’s not a viable option.
Even Jet Blue, one of the better and more inexpensive airlines began giving up the freebees for add on charges. As one passenger commented: “These fees are like sex. Once you’ve had it, you really can’t go back.”
Fuel costs have dropped precipitously since the Gulf nations became soaked in petro dollars, but fees and ticket prices have remained static.
According to the survey, the top 10 airlines charging the most for fees are:
- 1) Spirit
- 2) Allegiant
- 3) Frontier
- 4) United
- 5) Jet2.com
- 6) Qantas
- 7) Virgin Atlantic
- 8) AirAsia
- 9) Korean Air
- 10) Alaska Air