The Airplane Ticket: Only The Beginning Of The Cost Of Flying

It used to be that buying an airplane ticket was a fairly simple task. You’d pick your flight and time and pay to fly from point A to point B. Today, purchasing the ticket is a more complicated process. Fliers are confronted with a number of choices, each with its own price tag.

So many fees may be added to the price of an airplane ticket that the base cost is usually only a starting point. According to Max Levitte, co-founder of Cheapism.com, “Consumers don’t know what to expect unless they read all the fine print, which is a lot nowadays.” While your cable company offers you bundling of services, the airlines are doing just the opposite, offering you a la carte choices of services that used to be included in the regular fare. The carriers contend that add-on airplane ticket fees are simply their idea of giving fliers more choices. United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek compared the process to ordering a pizza saying, “We used to serve you a pizza with all the toppings and that’s all you got. Unbundling allows passengers to pay for only what they want.”

But what if the current base price of an airplane ticket is as high as the traditional price “with all the toppings”? Due to the high cost of fuel, airlines need the extra revenue to stay in the air according to an industry spokeswoman. Perks that used to be included in the cost of an airplane ticket but now carry add-on fees include baggage checking (the heavier the bag, the higher the cost), cancellations and food and beverages. Some other fees added to the cost of an airplane ticket are for new services such as wireless internet access and seating with extra legroom. There is even talk of a new program whereby a passenger may buy a higher-priced airplane ticket which entitles him or her to 1.5 seats. If I were cynical, I might suggest that the size of the seats on airplanes has been shrinking over the last few years so folks would be enticed to buy a second seat. (Some do.) Selling a double seat means less passenger and baggage weight on the plane which results in lower fuel consumption while ticket revenues stay the same. Of course, it’s possible that I am larger now than I used to be and the seats just seem smaller…

In July, 2013, a survey by Consumer Reports named America’s Spirit Airlines the most hated carrier. About 39% of Spirit’s 2012 revenue came from sources other than the airline ticket. George Hobica, founder and editor of Airfarewatchdog, which tracks airline deals says, “Spirit is the only no-frills airline left with fares that can be 90 percent less than other carriers.” The problem is, in addition to the price of an airplane ticket, it also charges a wide array of fees: $10 to $19 just to book a flight, $3 for juice, a soft drink or candy and $35 to $100 per carry-on bag. Ironically, Spirit Airlines is thriving while other larger carriers are not. It must be very popular with those passengers traveling without luggage. It’s clear that, while no one likes added fees, the charges must be weighed against the all-inclusive offerings of airlines like Southwest and Virgin America to determine the best deal on an airplane ticket.