Airlines nickel and dime us for millions

Planes taxi on runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Planes taxi on runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Associated Press file

Most Americans have long since given up on friendly skies when they’re flying. With lost bags, delayed flights and the advent of Transportation Security Administration gantlets, commercial air travel has become a sanity-sucking ordeal.

We’ve begrudgingly accepted that as the new normal. But there’s no reason to also accept being besieged with a litany of confusing fees and penalties for checking bags, changing tickets and selecting seats.

Democrats on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee were right to take up this cause on behalf of consumers. In a report released last week, they called for a government crackdown on the industry, and suggested airlines come up with a more transparent way to explain what passengers must pay and why.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, vowed to push for changes when the Senate begins working on legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration later this year.

“The traveling public is being nickel-and-dimed to death,” he said in a statement. “What’s worse is that many fliers don’t learn about the actual cost of their travel until it’s too late.”

The complaints in the report are routine aggravations for anyone who flies:

Fees that differ depending on the airline. Why does it cost $100 to change a ticket on one airline, but $400 to change it on another?

Fees that don’t make any sense. Why does it cost $25 to check one bag, but $40 to check a second one, and $100 for a third?

Fees for changing tickets no matter how far in advance they’re purchased. Why is the penalty for changing the departure date the same three months in advance as it is three days in advance?

Fees for reserving seats. Why do the airlines offer “preferred” seats at an additional charge without making it clear on their websites that the selection is optional?

The airline industry maintains that its fee structure is transparent and that passengers are happy. It’s not, and we’re not.

The truth is, even as airlines have enjoyed lower fuel costs and record profits, while charging higher fares and cutting in-flight amenities, they’re socking us with more fees. According to a recent IdeaWorksCompany analysis, the industry hauled in $38.1 billion in ancillary revenue in 2014. That amounts to $17.49 per passenger for retail activities, a la carte services, frequent-flier miles and, in some cases, purchases on airline-branded credit cards.

We urge the Senate to act. Flying is aggravating enough. Passengers shouldn’t have to deal with hidden fees, too.