Airlines have gotten greedy | In Focus

Will someone develop a profitable alternative?

My very first airplane flight was on a commercial jet in September 1966.

I was heading for college in California. On that 2.5-hour flight we were served a hot meal and the seats were reasonably comfortable. Checking luggage was free. Students were given half-price fares. My first flight from SEA to LAX cost me $35. There were no TSA security checks. Just walk to the terminal, kiss your parents good-bye and get on the plane with a pre-assigned seat using a printed boarding pass issued at the baggage check counter by a human being.

A lot has changed since then. Recently my wife and I took a flight to Minnesota to visit her siblings. We took our daughter, Eve, and her girls, ages 11 and 8.

We had our carry-on bags. If we had checked baggage, it would have cost us up to $50 for each person each way. We chose to save money and let the airlines pick our seats for us. If we wanted seats together, there would have been a reserved seat charge ranging from $35 – $68 each way. We were given seats scattered throughout the plane on both legs of our trip.

According to, “This approach in which companies add fees throughout the checkout process is called ‘drip pricing’ by experts. And research indicates that it’s an effective sales tactic, both for confusing customers and driving up overall prices.”

The Department of Transportation’s “Fee-Free Family Seating” is meant to solve this problem. In spite of Alaska’s promise to keep kids and parents together, Eve had to go to the counter at the gate to make arrangements to be able to sit with her daughters. Separating the children when tickets are purchased is a manipulative way to squeeze money out of the customers. Eve has paid this fee in the past to avoid the hassle and the uncertainty of changing seat assignments at the gate.

That’s why airlines use this practice. For them, the bottom line is the bottom line. Playing on parental fears is an effective way to increase profits.

Often, airlines offer passengers who are willing to check their carry-ons at the gate the incentive of expedited boarding. Frequently there is not enough room for overhead storage for all the passengers.

There is at least one airline, Frontier, that charges more for carry-on luggage than checked luggage. We have chosen to avoid that airline as a result.

Meals can now be purchased separately. The only food distributed during the flight was a small bag of pretzels and a hard biscuit. Pop, coffee, and water are freely given — at this point. Because of these changes, our family has chosen to bring our own food for snacks and meals.

Seats are more tightly packed into the plane, based upon the concept that the more crowded the space, the greater the profit. If a passenger wants more room, there is always first-class, which also provides “free meals” for a higher price, more room, and higher status. Drip pricing has only gotten more and more common since 1966. One person sarcastically suggested that airlines will soon be charging for having armrests, although it is hard to conceive of the logistics that would entail.

This trend of “drip pricing” will continue. It is also increasingly found in virtually every other large corporation in different permutations.

Capitalism is a good system, but greed ruins its benefits except for the super wealthy. Most capitalist businesses believe as Gordon Gecko stated in the movie “Wall Street” that “Greed is good.”

The answer to that is “it depends” on who benefits and who ends up being nickeled and dimed by outrageous pricing schemes such as the examples noted above.

As the price of goods rises and customer service declines, many people will seek alternate means to get what they want and need. Eventually, large greedy corporations will have to change their business practices in order to maintain their profits.

Knowledge is power. “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” That is particularly true when flying.