By James Clingman
The cost of air travel, coupled with all of the delays and cancellations, is very frustrating. For example, there was the recent United flight that was diverted to some remote outpost in eastern Canada where the passengers spent 20 hours or so in a barracks without luggage, and not knowing when or if they would resume their flight to London. Then, there are the tales of woe from passengers who sat on the tarmac for hours without food, air conditioning, or information on when they would leave – that is, except for the occasional, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience; we will be cleared for takeoff shortly.”
As though the sheer inconvenience of flying is not enough, the airlines are finding more and more ways to get money out of our pockets. They told us fuel costs went up when the oil crisis hit, but they did not lower their prices when the price of oil went down. They started passing out brown bag snacks to passengers, which didn’t last very long. Then, they began selling everything, even the famous peanuts, crackers, and soft drinks.
The next chapter was the extra charge for checked luggage. So, folks started stuffing carry-on bags with as much as they could into them in order to get around those charges, which by the way went up from a few dollars to sky-high prices now. The current move is to eliminate carry-on bags all together. Cha-ching!
The most outlandish scheme is the one currently being perpetrated by Spirit Airlines (What a name!). My family took a trip recently, the first leg of which was a flight from Atlanta to Houston. After searching for a reasonable price for two tickets, Spirit won the day for the lowest price. After all, it was just a short hop over to Houston from the ATL, right? How much could it be?
Tickets were booked, and less than 24 hours before the 4 p.m. flight, an email arrived informing us that the flight had been moved up to 7 a.m. Yes, “moved up.” The problem with that move was not only the short notice, but also the inconvenience it caused because we had to drive about 150 miles from Greenville, S.C. to Atlanta to catch the flight. Nine hours made a great deal of difference in our case. But we adjusted and made it to the airport on time.
The fun and games were just beginning. Upon arrival at the desk, we had to pay for our bags, of course, and we had to pay for a seat selection. Want to sit by a window or in an aisle seat? You’ll have to pay for that. The price of the tickets was $459.40, and with the extra charges for bags and seats, the price was $589.36. This scam was repeated on the return trip.
The lesson: Always read the fine print. Ask questions about additional charges. And remember that nothing is free – cheap, yes, — but never free. The other lesson is that some businesses such as Spirit Airlines purport to be the cheapest most cost efficient way to fly. They reel you in and then drop the bomb on you with extra fees. Not illegal, but definitely unethical. I believe ethics is important in a business; Spirit is not a company that I would consider in that vein.
Other airlines have unethical practices as well. We are at their mercy though, as they merge and become virtual monopolies. We are their captive market, as we sit for hours on runways without simple creature comforts or information about our fate. We are the sheep walking through mazes of ropes and chains, as TSA workers miss contraband that passes right under their noses.
But it’s the only mode of travel we have in many cases, depending on time and distance, of course. So what do we do? Research and get the full picture on prices and charges that may not be disclosed when you purchase your ticket. And if you get ripped-off, notify the company, as we did. Then spread the word to others, the way I am doing now, about unethical business practices. Don’t believe me? Go to this link: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2013/05/08/5-outrageous-spirit-airlines-fees/
This particular airline has something called the “Free Spirit” club. I question their “spirit” and it sho-nuff ain’t free. Every little item costs something. I can truly see the day coming when the following announcement will be made by the flight attendants: “In case of a sudden loss of air pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from overhead. Before putting your mask on, insert $5 into the convenient slot in front of you, put your mask on, and breathe normally.”
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, blackonomics.com. He is the author of Black Dollars Matter: Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense, which is available through his website; professionalpublishinghouse.com and Amazon Kindle eBooks.