I’ve been working through my feelings on the latest trend in air travel, generating ancillary revenue and the unbundling of services previously included in the price of the ticket. The most obvious of these charges include:

  1. A charge of $15 to $20 dollars to buy a ticket from an agent at the airport or on the phone.
  2. Buy on board food.
  3. Paying for an advance seat assignment or the ability to buy yourself a better coach seat.
  4. $25 dollars to check a second bag.

There are more examples, but I believe that these are the four most notable, and generate the most grumbling among travelers. The newest of these is the fee for checking a second bag. I have mixed emotions about this. On one hand, it’s easy to see this as “nickel and diming,” but on the other, airlines sell tickets to individuals in exchange for transportation between points on a map. That’s it. They sell cargo shipping services as well. I rarely travel with more than one bag, and for those few instances when I do, I am on vacation and won’t let a $25 dollar fee dissuade me from doing so as long as I am paying a reasonable fare. Although, I suppose if I had a choice of one airline not charging, and the other that did charge…I’d go with keeping my money. Furthermore, my elite status on United would exempt me from this fee when traveling on United. This isn’t an endorsement of the fee, it’s just me offering my opinion and that is that I don’t have a problem with it….for now. United also exempted travelers on refundable fares (read: expensive) from this fee unlike US Airways. US Airways exempted elite travelers (and some others, the complete policy is available at usairways.com), but not non-elites on expensive refundable tickets. I’m not sure why. I think it’s at least worth speculating that US Airways’ information technology systems make it more difficult to do so than United’s?

I don’t care about buy on board food either, as long as the purchased product is of reasonable quality. I wish more airlines would accept credit cards on board like American does. I believe Air Tran may as well. I don’t know about you, but I don’t walk around with a stash of five dollar bills just for on board spending.

I can even go along with a charge for a good seat such as the exit row or an aisle seat close to the front. Northwest was the first “legacy” airline to get involved with this in great detail with it’s “Coach Choice (sm)” program. This program was pretty poorly executed in the beginning, with even Northwest elite travelers subject to paying the charge. However, they wised up pretty quickly. Frankly, as long as elite and high fare travelers have access to these seats in advance without the fee, I don’t have a problem with such a program.

But this takes us to fee # 1, a charge for buying a ticket. This was the first and most widespread example of “unbundling.” And as far as I am concerned, it’s also the most tacky. I’m sorry, but the prospect of paying an airline (or any other entity) a service charge to sell me something that I’m buying from them is just not my idea of a good time. You can avoid this fee by purchasing directly from the airline website, but I’m still not loving this idea. Heck, American even charges this fee in instances where they force you to use an agent such as buying a ticket with a voucher you received for volunteering to give up your seat. Others may disagree, but this one gets a huge thumbs down from me, avoidable or not.

I know many disagree, but I don’t look at unbundling as the end of the earth in general. Times have changed, and I’ll change along with them. But I won’t pay for the privilege of being allowed to buy an airline’s product from a person, I just won’t and I think that is the best example of unbundling run amok. We’ll see if this trend towards unbundling continues. I bet that it will.