The State of the States: Airlines/Airports (No. 1 in a series)

Well, I’m traveling now from Whitehorse to Reno, Nevada, and then on to my folks place for Thanksgiving. That’s right, we’re celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving (the Early Edition of Thanksgiving, available everywhere north of 49).

I intend to tell you a bit about how the States are doing right now.

First up, Airlines.

I don’t have good things to say about airlines, but I do have some warnings. First up, most US airlines are charging for checking ANY baggage. $15. No one lets you know, unless it’s in the fine print of your ticket. I’ll check and get back with you. I find this a bit rude to travelers. Basically, after giving you high fees and prices anyway, they penalize you for packing. Better if you take everything on the plane with you. Remember the time that they actually tried to convince you to check stuff that could go on board? Yep, that’s over. They want you to take everything you can on with you. Maybe they can’t pay their luggage handlers….I’m not sure. But $15 for every piece of checked baggage is a lot–and you have to pay it there at the check-in counter. They told me that Southwest was an exception. If you don’t know about Southwest, go to www.southwest.com and drool over those prices. They are exceptional. And they go to a lot of places in the US. If you take a shuttle across the border to Seattle from Vancouver ($40) you can fly roundtrip for less than $200 to most places. And, apparently, they don’t charge you for checked luggage.

US Airways is probably typical of US airlines.

Another disturbing development: they now charge for ALL beverage service on board the aircraft. They even charge for spring water. (And most travel books tell people to avoid the tap water on planes….for obvious reasons). So, for flights that are three hours, not only do they take your water from you at the door (except for 100 ml), but they now charge you $2 for drinks, $1 for coffee/tea and $7 for alcohol. They also charge for food, but I was watching that happen last year….those snack boxes. Now, even on a three hour flight–no water, no pretzels. And they will only take cash. So, get American dollars, exact change, for flights into the US, or you will have no food or drink on board. (I don’t know if you are allowed food….seems like I see these signs that allow dinner on board now if you are buying it in the terminal.) *  

The inflight movie? A) you have to pay for headphones. no surprise there. But B) you are scolded over and over again to close your window-shades for those watching the movie, even if you are passing over some stunning landscapes. I mean, the window is the cheap entertainment. It’s why you buy a window seat! Geesh. I think they didn’t want us to see Area 51. I couldn’t afford the headphones, but I can afford the window–it was $232 dollars. I didn’t have change on the plane, so I enjoyed the dry landscape as a dry person. *The good news: airport food has gotten better. yes, you can find Burger King everywhere, but I’m talking about a Mexican burrito place called the Blue Burrito Grille (all fresh ingredient burritos) in Phoenix, and Opa’s Greek restaurant in Vancouver’s restaurant (before you go through security). Opa’s is great food. I was impressed. All fresh ingredients, tasty, affordable. $10.49 for a gyro/pita with greek salad and medium drink. If these are any indication of airport food, it’s getting healthier, and somewhat cheaper.

So, traveling right now can be surprising, yes. And it isn’t getting all that better on the planes. Except for AIR NORTH which I love with all my heart. If I could date AIR NORTH, I would be the proudest guy on the planet, showing Air North off to everyone, ready to introduce Air North at every party. (Yes, I sometimes have an article for Yukon: North of Ordinary, Air North’s in-flight magazine…but this is not why I’m in love with Air North) FREE Midnight Sun coffee!! Free Cheesecake! Free Food!! Free Beverages! Free magazines and newspapers! Friendly Staff! Yes, I want the prices to come down, but you know what?? I think service on Air North compensates for the prices…. They are, BAR NONE, the best airline in Canada, and except for my former affair with Southwest Airlines (love ya, babe–we’re just too far apart) they are the best in North America for price. My beef with them has more to do with having to come home so late only on certain days from Calgary, but this is not a series on Air North….but traveling Outside makes me compare airlines…and Air North comes out favorably against US Airways/American Airlines, etc, anyday!

So, go to Vancouver and Calgary, Fairbanks and Inuvik and Edmonton….Until Air North flies farther, I’m recommending a tight traveling circle.

*okay, the flight attendant on the second US Airways flight was very kind to me and gave me a coffee for 50 cents, when I didn’t have enough cash.  I can’t trash US Airways–as I said, they are typical of the fee hikes that are invading the airline industry.

**American Airlines does not charge for drinks on board. The flight attendant said, “Please keep flying American.”   He is aware that “other airlines” have begun doing that but it turned his stomach.

7 thoughts on “The State of the States: Airlines/Airports (No. 1 in a series)

  1. Carole October 11, 2008 / 9:59

    Holy Crap! After just reading the first part of your entry, I compared Air Canada from Vancouver to Buffalo NY and Southwest from Seattle to Buffalo NY. Air Canada’s total was $991 while Southwest was $460. Even with the exchange rate and the extra $40 for the shuttle, it’s still a lot cheaper to fly in the States. Shocking, yet not surprising, if that makes any sense.

  2. Kater October 11, 2008 / 9:59

    I just checked Alaska Airlines. First bag free, sodas still free, meals and alcohol cost. They don’t take cash at all.

    It might just be US Airways that’s trying to nickel-and-dime you.

  3. jstueart October 11, 2008 / 9:59

    Hmm. Just took American Airlines. They docked me on luggage and food/drink. They gave me a little brochure and told me Southwest was the only major US airline that didn’t charge for food on board or for luggage. They said, “American Airlines didn’t want to raise the airfare, so….” But I countered that by saying that charging PER bag they raised it just the same, and penalized long distance, long stay travelers. What they did essentially by raising the bag rate and not the airfare was favor business travelers–whose flights are paid for by their companies. Again, companies get a break, ordinary people get the cost. Interesting, eh?

    Thanks, Kater for checking that out. Looks like Alaska Airlines should go in the People Friendly airlines section!

  4. Keyan October 13, 2008 / 9:59

    Just flew United. Paid $15 for the bag, the Pepsi/ water on board was free. Didn’t bother with their snacks – I buy trail mix and M&Ms at the terminal.

    Since the bag charges have just started, I don’t think there’s an industry norm yet. But yes, airlines do want business travelers because they typically pay full fare and the rest of us buy cheapo tickets online.

  5. jstueart October 14, 2008 / 9:59

    I see your point, Keyan. I do! 😉 But I don’t know about your tickets, but my tickets weren’t cheapo. I gave up on Priceline. I shop around like most folks, trying to get a deal, but outside of Southwest, fares are ridiculous right now. (My trip: $1500) Though American/ US Airways claims to be saving money with the bag fee, the airfare remains high and is only going up. It’s not our fault that we are trying to get the best deal–they are offering it. I don’t think an airline can give a deal with one hand and slap our hand for taking it with the other. Nor do I think they should reward the customers (businesses–not business travelers, who don’t pay airfare) who pay the most money just because they can afford it. Reward the rich, ding the poor? Doesn’t sound right.

  6. Keyan October 15, 2008 / 9:59

    That’s a lot! I could fly to Tokyo for that!

    But all businesses reward their best customers – the ones who spend the most money with them, the ones who buy the highest-margin products. That’s capitalism. It’s how it works. Reward the rich, ding the poor, who don’t have buying power.

    What sustains people is the hope that they might someday be rich. At least, that’s the only reason I can think of, since there are very many more poor than rich, and the US is a democracy.

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