July 23, 2008
How Horrible Will Airlines Have to Become Before We Stop Flying?
Posted by Christine Hurt

My six year-old is stomping around the house changing, "I hate United Airlines."  I'm sure he's not the first person to have said this, but he is forming at a young age a hatred toward a major airline.  We all know that fares are higher this summer, and that in recent years airlines have begun charging for things that seemed to have included at one time:  meals, then tickets bought by talking to an actual person instead of online, then luggage.  So, what was the straw that has broken our family's back?

For years, grandma has been suggesting that when our older two were of age, that they should fly unaccompanied to see her.  In the summertime, this seems like a great suggestion, giving the kids longer time there without parents who otherwise need to be working, etc.  Our kids are now 9 and 6 1/2 (5th grade and 1st grade).  We all agreed to try flying them nonstop from Chicago to Roanoke, Virginia.  Well, first, nonstops to small markets don't come cheap these days, so getting there nonstop is double what a one-stop ticket would be.  Ouch.  But, nonstop it has to be.  But, we can't reserve unaccompanied minors online, so we have to call, realizing there will be a $25 per ticket "ticketing fee."  Smaller ouch.  But the big shocker is that unaccompanied minors will be charged a $99 each way fee (we call that the $200 fee).  And that means that the kids will not be flying to see grandma and that Luke will continue chanting his song. 

Out of curiosity, I looked around the Internet, and it seems that American charges an amazingly similar fee ($100 each way), but Southwest, which seems to serve a lot of unaccompanied minors, does not.  I understand that unaccompanied minors require extra attention, just like some other groups of passengers.  (My grandmother always requested a wheelchair when traveling, even though she was ambulatory for normal, short distances.  I wonder if there is a charge now?)  Besides just normal monitoring, if there is a problem, such as the plane being diverted enroute, then the headaches with unaccompanied minors may be larger and the costs of housing/rerouting greater.  I can see the desirability of an additional fare.  However, as we all know now, airlines are very concerned with weight and fuel costs.  Children weigh less.  A plane full of children will cost less to fly than a plane full of adults with their adult luggage.  All this aside, I wonder why Southwest determined that they would market themselves to the unaccompanied minor market?  Southwest probably has less downside risk -- their flights are shorter, for one thing.  If your child is rerouted on the Houston-Dallas flight to Austin, at worst you drive to go get him, I guess.  But not all flights are shorter.

Anyway, unless grandma flies to a Southwest destination, I guess Luke's unaccompanied minor dreams are deferred to another day.

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Comments (7)

1. Posted by Kate Litvak on July 23, 2008 @ 13:08 | Permalink

This is a seriously weird post, Christine. What exactly did United do that was so “horrible”? Priced their services higher than what you are willing to pay? I don’t think I have to remind you that previously "free" add-ons (baggage transportation, food on board, unattended-minor chaperoning, etc.) were not actually free; it's just that passengers who didn't use them subsidized passengers who did. You got your subsidy taken away now; I’m happy – you are not. Is that what makes United "horrible"?

P.S. I’d suggest to tell your six-year-old to chant “I hate Southwest” instead. If they only flew to the destination of your choice, none of this would have been an issue.

2. Posted by Tracy McGaugh on July 23, 2008 @ 15:15 | Permalink

Last week, Delta charged me $100 to take a bag that was 65 pounds. Okay, fine.

Then they lost my bag on a Friday afternoon and couldn't return it to me until Monday night because they don't pay for enough staff to track down lost luggage on a Friday night or weekend.

Good thing we went ahead and developed web meeting technology despite the ease of air travel. Looks like we're going back to that!

3. Posted by Jake on July 23, 2008 @ 21:04 | Permalink

In principle, that airlines are beginning to practice price discrimination, proportionate to the intensity of the services that each passenger requires, seems perfectly defensible.

Until, that is, you get to the inadequate remedies that customers have when an airline not only fails to deliver the promised service, but inflicts consequential damages upon the customer as well.

4. Posted by Chris on July 25, 2008 @ 12:46 | Permalink

It's probably a good thing your children didn't fly United. If you think buying a ticket from them is a hassle just wait until you actually have to check in and fly.

Our family was subjected to their ineptitude during a trip to San Diego in April. The gory details are here.

5. Posted by Chester White on July 25, 2008 @ 15:37 | Permalink

"My six year-old is stomping around the house changing, "I hate United Airlines."

Your kid is more astute than A LOT of adults.

My wife and I have been abused so many times by UA that we refuse to take it, even though it's huge in Chicago where we live.

We take something else or we don't go.

That damn airline cannot die soon enough for me.

6. Posted by Chester White on July 25, 2008 @ 15:42 | Permalink

Forgot to say, you should seriously investigate Southwest. They are always, always, always my first choice of airline.

No change fees, no baggage fees, Companion Pass, pleasant employees, no fake "mechanicals" where they just cancel a flight at the last minute to consolidate two half-empty planes onto one, etc.

It will change your life.

7. Posted by drive medical wheelchairs on July 22, 2011 @ 0:20 | Permalink

I don't get it why do airline horrible have to become before they stop flying?

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