Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Gouged While Flying

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

Herewith an explanation of what might appear to the casual traveler to be nothing more than the kind of corporate greed to which we have become accustomed. It is an explanation for the reason for changes that airlines have introduced to the traveler that significantly increase the cost of travel while not affecting the price of tickets. This apparent anomaly has a simple explanation that is often overlooked. Before offering the explanation, however, it is helpful to look at some examples of increases in the cost of travel. For purposes of this piece we focus on the Friendly Skies of United Airlines (UAL) although the changes described and the motives as well, are equally applicable to those less friendly airlines.

Among the first of recent changes was one affecting passengers’ suitcases that was announced in about 2008. For many years the suitcase accompanied the traveler as a matter of right without additional cost. Today the charge for the first suitcase at UAL is $25 and for the second $35. In order to lessen the resentment many travelers felt at this additional charge, UAL came up with a solution. It sent customers an e-mail announcing that “United is the first airline to save you time and money with this simple and convenient service.” The simple and convenient service required the passenger to pack a suitcase a couple days before travelling and then call FedEx to pick up the suitcase and ship it to the traveler’s destination. Travelers who took advantage of this service did not have to pay UAL $25 for checking the suitcase. Instead they paid FedEx somewhere between $149 and $250, depending on where the suitcase was going, a figure that according to UAL’s website, has now dropped to $99 per bag.

Ever looking for new ways to improve the convenience for suitcases’ travels, UAL has added a new luggage service for those who don’t want to use FedEx. According to its website the traveler can pay the airline $349 for the one year privilege of checking two bags each time the traveler flies. That is much cheaper for the frequent flyer than paying FedEx and more convenient than having to pack a couple days before travelling. Having taken care of suitcases, UAL came up with another new idea. This improvement involved travelers’ comfort.

In the cheap seat section of the airplane it installed a few rows of seats where what would have been considered intolerable leg space 20 years ago became highly desirable. At first the seats were given at no cost to those who had attained privileged status with the airline. Then it occurred to someone that the company could make them available to others by charging an additional amount. To make the offer attractive, those seats were advertised for sale with pictures of a flyer with legs stretching into infinity which, of course, is no reflection on how much space is actually between those seats. Travelers flying from Chicago to Madison pay $9 for the better seats. Those flying from Denver to Seattle pay $49.

Now, UAL has come up with the newest, most exciting innovation yet. For years it has encouraged people to become members of their Mileage Plus Program because of all the good things that accompany the accumulation of great numbers of miles. One of the best was using the miles to remove oneself from the cheap seats into the business class seats. The number of miles required to accomplish this feat depended on the distance travelled and required the purchase of a more expensive coach class ticket than the least expensive one being advertised. Realizing that travelers didn’t like to have to buy a more expensive ticket in order to upgrade, UAL changed the rules. Anyone wishing to upgrade can now buy the cheapest ticket being advertised and use miles to upgrade. There is, however, a catch. It had the catchy name of “co-pay.” With the new program, a member of Mileage Plus who wants to use miles to upgrade from coach to business class when going to Europe, buys the cheapest coach ticket, takes miles from the mileage plus account and then participates with UAL in the “co-pay.” The co-pay for those travelling to Europe is $900 for round trip travel in addition to the price of the ticket. Those travelling to the Far East pay $1,000. And now, the reason for these additional charges that have helped the airlines keep ticket prices low. The answer can be found in taxes.

A 7.5% excise tax is imposed on passenger fares. The excise tax is not imposed on the assorted fees charged passengers described above including, presumably, the co-pays. No one likes paying taxes. UAL and other airlines have figured out ways of avoiding them. No one likes being gouged. Airline passengers have not yet figured out how to avoid that.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan; It’s the Heroin, Stupid
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Julian Vigo
“Ooops, I Did It Again”: How the BBC Funnels Stories for Financial Gain
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Uri Avnery
Abu Mazen’s Balance Sheet
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]