Travel Betty

Encouraging Fearless Independent Travel For Women

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What the Airline Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know: We Have the Power to Fight The Fees

February 7th, 2010 · 9 Comments

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Please excuse me a minute, I think I’m gonna to rant…

Do you hate paying good money for bad food on an airplane? Do you hate having to make repeated purchases of 3 oz. bottles of hair gel because a full-sized bottle results in a $35 checked luggage fee each way? Do you resent your own knees for convincing you to fork over $50 for an extra inch of legroom? I do too.

You know what we can do to Fight the Fees? Stop paying them!

Travel Boyfriend Demonstrates How To Fights the Fees

Travel Boyfriend Demos How To Fight the Fees

What? How can that be? Companies have instituted these fees, they are the cost of doing business in these tough times (SFX: melodramatic piano chord) and therefore, we must pay.

“My paying additional fees for things that have already been included in the operational costs of the base fare stimulates the economy.”

“Increased profit at my expense saves jobs.”

“Really I deserve to pay more for a stale tortilla wrap to quiet my stomach on a 6-hour flight. Especially since I failed to factor in that we’d be stuck on the tarmac for 9 hours before takeoff. Stale tortilla wraps are a privilege, not a right, right?”

Ah, yes, the indoctrination has been successful. Perhaps we asked for it. Our wallets bulging seductively, dollar bills (or more likely, overdrawn credit cards) peeking out between the folds of too-tight leather. How could these companies help themselves? Really, these fees, this poor service, it’s all punishment for our own bad behavior. We should have known better. Expecting to pay fair prices for products and services instead of subsidizing poor business decisions like we should be.

Granted, failing to pay these greedy, fear-induced fees may mean a few of the airlines and hotel chains we put up with may fail too. But what’s brilliant is that where there is demand, there are enterprising companies poised to take their places. Gardeners know that pruning results in more robust plant life. Cut the old, wasted foliage to birth the new. It’s the circle of life, but in today’s economic climate (SFX: melodramatic piano chord again), we are afraid to prune. The old foliage, although unproductive, is familiar!

Too big to fail is a phrase that this Travel Betty hopes goes the way of staycation (SFX: toilet flush). It’s not that many of these legacy companies are too big to fail, it’s that they have proven they are too big to innovate. Having worked at and with a fair share of America’s behemoths, I’ve seen this pattern repeated ad nauseum. It’s difficult to gain momentum on even the simplest of innovations because the gravitational pull of the masses demands stasis. That’s how you get those steady, barely perceptible upticks in the quarterly stock returns. And who doesn’t like those?

Companies that are too big to innovate deserve to fail. When you’re business model requires squeezing your customers at every turn with you repeatedly finding yourself a hair’s breath from the licking flames of bankruptcy, you have an untenable business model. That’s when successful, forward-thinking legacy companies and scrappy upstarts should be able to come in and steal your market share. Is that fair? It is if you’re relying solely on your good looks and charm long after both have faded.

Attracting customers vs. trying to relentlessly extract from them means offering more not less. Take Virgin America, Southwest, or Jet Blue for example. These are companies with the ability to inspire fanatic obsession. They are the budget airlines of our day, but they offer premium experiences. The key to their success is setting expectations (“we are a budget airline”) and exceeding them (“mood lighting, anyone?”). What these airlines didn’t do was set the expectation that they are a full-service, full-fare airline and then whine, manipulate, extort and go beg big daddy Congress for bailouts when the business climate changed, but they didn’t (although some did adopt the baggage fee policy and boooo to them!)

Delta, American, United, US Airways, Continental—airlines people have resigned themselves to doing business with against their better judgment. We don’t like ‘em, don’t trust ‘em and don’t want to fly ‘em. But what choice does a Travel Betty have? Due to their legacy, these airlines fly the most routes and have the global partnerships. But if what we’ve seen over the last few years is any indication, maybe we’d be better off with more airlines each flying fewer routes. If the no-bloat airlines were freed from the fight against out of touch legacies and could instead create strategic partnerships of their own to provide seamless point to point travel for passengers, maybe the entire landscape of air travel would have the breathing room to change for the better.

Certainly there are companies that are big, bold and old that are doing it well, like the Four Seasons. These companies are successful, even in dire economic times (SFX: cue piano…oh, you get the point) because they know better than to take their customers, real live people with value beyond our wallets, for granted. They work hard to build a strong brand, protect it fiercely and use it to direct their vision. Employees believe in that vision and are encouraged to develop new ways to build towards it. These companies understand that there are no guarantees in business, no entitlements. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance, as investment statements like to trumpet. Whatever passion, drive and vision you had to begin with must remain whether you have a direct competitor or not. Because even without corporate competition, people always have the choice to disengage completely. Just ask the millions of Americans who are now willing to drive 15 hours in their (imported) cars simply to avoid the rape and pillage at the airport.

True, in some instances, these giants attempt innovation. Consulting firms like the one I work for are more than happy to help in this regard and happen to be extremely good at it. The problem is that once the innovations have been conceived, it can be painfully difficult to adopt them if the culture is resistant. And there’s nothing like a huge lumbering corporate environment to off-gas resistance. It’s like sending a drug addict to the best treatment facility in the country only to deliver him back to the doorstep of his dealer and crack-loving girlfriend. Be sure, the people who work at these companies are incredibly smart, and understand that failing to innovate means almost certain failure to exist. But there has to be an assimilation process, a plan, with buy-in not only from the “treatment facility” and “patient” but also from the community as a whole. And that’s where the size of the monster often scares away even the most brave among us.

So is there no hope for the legacies? Not if they insist on business as usual.

It’s time to shake up the old guard and take an industry-wide innovative approach to travel. Let’s update our air traffic control system for god’s sake. Let’s renovate airports to make passenger-flow not only efficient, but intuitive and pleasurable. There are millions of us trapped for hours at a time looking for something, anything to do and the best they can offer is a sea of shrieking TV monitors and easy-wipe seating? Not good enough.

This time it’s going to require focusing on inner beauty instead of just phoning it in with another logo makeover. And these companies need to stop looking to us to subsidize the efforts with short-term solutions like reserved seating fees. We’ll be happy to pay a fair price when they start offering something of value.

The Move Your Money banking industry campaign has been inspirational in reminding us that, oh yeah, WE’RE in charge. Let’s continue the momentum and show the airline industry (and hotels with those unconscionable resort fees) we’re ready to Fight the Fees.

Who’s with me, Betties?

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Tags: Air Travel · Travel Insights

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  • 9 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Susan // Feb 13, 2010 at 9:59 am

      That was a great rant. “Companies that are too big to innovate deserve to fail.” I love that line. You are so right about the need to have the buy in of a whole company. It’s so sad to see great ideas fall to the wayside.

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    • 2 Maia // Mar 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

      So true, these fees are really out of control and it’s time for a change!

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    • 3 adventurer // Apr 26, 2010 at 10:29 pm

      it is really true.a unique piece of info on the insides of the airlines

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    • 4 AK // Jun 29, 2010 at 11:57 pm

      So true!

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    • 5 Costa Rica // Aug 4, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      I really dont like how airlines place the prices with no control at all, sometimes it can be cheap, sometimes extreamly expensive. Its awful.

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    • 6 the destination india // Aug 7, 2010 at 1:38 am

      good source of information about the airline industery.they always act arbierary.

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    • 7 VashonAmy // Sep 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm

      Thanks for the tips; I like the expression “Live Small Travel Big” and your info here helps us live out our priorities of traveling!

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    • 8 Jeppe // Sep 30, 2010 at 6:39 am

      Girl, you should try Ryanair
      their reasons for success are
      low prices
      no crashes
      on time
      but with their ridiculously small kneeroom, nonexistant service and ever new addon fees they are becoming what you describe

      they could not survive if their flights were longer then a few hours
      next trick is we’ll have to pay to go to the loo

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    • 9 UK Wanderer // Aug 29, 2011 at 9:20 am

      You’re right low-cost carriers happen to be much more comfortable then the big ones, and my experience was the same with hotel rooms as well..

      On a JetBlue flight you don’t really expect on-board internet, but while travelling with Delta it got me pissed of seeing that I should pay an extra $15/hour for it.. also staying in Los Angeles hotels my best experience I had with Holiday Inn, despite the fact that we’ve spent some nights in the Hilton (another $18/day for the Internet when we already paid $130+ for the room, grrrr…) and in Hyatt Regency.

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