The beginning of an end of an era, and it’s about damned time…

So, [tag]Northwest Airlines[/tag] announced today that they’re going to begin charging extra for aisle seats and seats on the exit aisle.  Not surprising really.  None of the major airlines is doing well financially.  Most blamed 9/11/01 for their financial troubles but that’s a shabby excuse.  The real reason that the major US carriers can’t make ends meet is that they’ve got too many planes in the air, too many people in their employ in the form of pilots, flight attendants, ticket agents and maintenance workers and too much money sunk into facilities.  That all adds up to loads and loads of expenses and the current airline business model just will not support a profitable enterprise.

What’s sad is the airlines choosing to deal with their financial troubles by nickle and diming their customers.  First they started charging for meals.  Fine.  No problem.  Your food stinks anyway.  If I know I have a choice between buying the filth you serve and buying food to bring with me on the flight I’ll choose the latter and probably be better off for it.  Then they began charging you if you wanted to actually speak to a customer service agent.  Um, ok, I see the point here.  It’s shitty, but it makes sense.  Maintaining a lot of customer service reps to man the phones 24 hours a day is expensive, and probably better than 80% of travelers not only don’t need personal service, they don’t want it.  They’d rather just go online and take care of things themselves.

Today’s announcement is really pushing it though.  And industry analysts are saying this is just the beginning.  Next the airlines will charge you to check baggage, on a per bag basis.  Can breathable oxygen surcharges be far off?

What the airlines really need to do is is recognize that the era of air travel being as commonplace as walking to the corner store is over.  Businesses are using communications technology instead of travel to get things done and with the middle class ever shrinking the days of entire families hopping on a plane to fly to the other side of the country or out of the country for a vacation are on their way out.  By putting fewer planes in the air, flying out of fewer airports the airlines can justify jacking up fares much higher, can go back to providing decent service to their customers and, hopefully, concentrate on making air travel truly safer than it has been since Reagan effectively deregulated the industry.

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