Is there an Exorcist onboard?

If you’re a surfer (the REAL kind, using water, not the Internet), you might just be a little ticked off by gnarly stuff the airlines are doing these days. If you are saving up your money to surf Hawaii’s Banzai Pipeline or Australia’s Margaret River, you’d better put a few hundred dollars extra in the kitty for flying your board. (For more on this, see this link.)

In recent years, airlines have been quietly adding extra fees for just about everything you check. If you are checking a surfboard on an international Delta flight, for example, be prepared to pay $300 per board extra, each way. But you won’t be lonely; you have lots of company. (And Delta is not the only one.)

This is a time of extreme confusion in the airline industry. Airlines, which historically are in one of the most competitive businesses on earth, have been hammered by economic troubles and the egregious structure of their own industry. For example, let the cost of crude rise a few dollars, and the next thing you hear is about another airline either filing for bankruptcy or seeking a dance partner to merge with. The margins are THAT tight. So, they’re trying everything they can to squeeze a few dollars anywhere they can.

But in recent weeks, we have seen enough conflicting messages that it reminds me of Linda Blair’s Exorcist head-spin. For example, a recent USA Today story trumpeted, “Airlines roll out amenities to lure elite fliers back”. The key there: E-L-I-T-E. They are looking not for you and me, who are choosing to fly our screaming kids to Disney instead of loading up in the old Family Truckster; they are looking for corporate travelers, who aren’t that cost-conscious and fly a lot.

Contrast that with a recent announcement by Continental Airlines that they are going to start charging coach passengers for meals on domestic flights of less than six hours. Yes, folks, you heard right; we’re talking about AIRLINE FOOD here.  This follows Continental’s recent announcement that they are going to LET us pay more to sit in the exit row, because of the extra legroom. Boy, are we lucky. And to top it all off, airlines are complaining about the new Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, which Continental’s CEO Jeff Smisek called “stupid”. See Peter Greenberg’s interview about the topic here.

I am not trying to bash the entire airline industry here, but come on; what kinds of messages are we getting? What I hear is loud and clear. “Come on in, there’s plenty of seats, but…ahem…you will need to pay for that checked bag, and let’s see, you have a surfboard, and, you do want to eat, don’t you? But don’t eat too much or we will have to charge you for an extra seat. And by the way, thank you for flying with us.” The friendly skies aren’t so friendly any more. I may just join John Madden and take the bus.


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