Analyst: Fees Will Help Airlines Reduce Staff

David Field says airlines may start charging passengers more to pay for checking luggage at the airport, as opposed to paying in advance online.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

This Memorial Day kicks off what's traditionally the busiest airline travel season. This year, airlines are just hoping that you will travel, because they're bracing for the possibility of 14 million fewer people flying this summer compared to last year. To tell us what passengers need to brace for, we checked in with our airline analyst, David Field. Welcome to the program.

DAVID FIELD: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

GREENE: I want to start with money and fees, because I remember the first time U.S. Airways was charging for Diet Cokes on an airplane, and I thought there was going to be a revolt. And it seems like every month there's some new fee for something. Anything that we should be looking for this summer?

FIELD: What the airlines are moving toward now is trying to use the fees as a way to encourage or shape passenger behavior. For instance, U.S. Airways again and United are moving toward a fee in which you would pay more to check a bag if you checked at the airport. Or to put it in another way, you'd get a discount if you pay when you check in for your flight online at home. It's a way for the airlines to reduce the burden on their airport staff, on the check-in staff and so on.

GREENE: None of this sounds good for people who like to do it the old-fashioned way and just want to come to the airport and talk to a person.

FIELD: No, but that's going away. Matter of fact, there are airlines that talk about getting rid of staff at the airport altogether.

GREENE: And there'll be a point when we don't need pilots. Who needs the airplanes (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

FIELD: There'll always be pilots.

GREENE: Well, how about checking in? I understand that the government's talking about some new rules for traveler IDs.

FIELD: That's right. TSA, starting in August, has a new rule in which your reservation must be styled in the same name as is on your ID. In other words, if your name is Joseph Rambo Smith, you got to make your reservation in the name of Joseph Rambo Smith and not Joe Smith.

GREENE: Well, I'm reading about that on this new blog, EvolutionofSecurity.gov

FIELD: Ah, EvolutionofSecurity is an actually fascinating blog. It is a TSA, government blog, it's done by a federal agency, yet it's surprisingly readable. It's surprisingly humorous, and it has a fair amount of good information. You know, most government blogs are regurgitated press releases or some one in the PR office writing up happy statements from the agency leader. The EvolutionofSecurity blog actually has real people writing it, and there are, in most cases a real personality to it and a real sense of humor.

GREENE: And it's evolutionofsecurity.gov.

FIELD: That's right.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about the onboard experience, once you get on that plane. With so many people, I mean, may be 14 million fewer tickets sold, so many people not flying, I mean, is that then going to mean some empty seats and some room to stretch out a little bit?

FIELD: Ha-ha-ha. No.

GREENE: You laugh.

FIELD: I laugh. No. Airlines have cut back so much on capacity. They've reduced flights. They substituted smaller planes for the larger planes they used to use so much that airplanes are still going to be jammed and crowded. You're still going to be in the middle seat in between two grandmothers from Des Moines who want to show you the pictures of their grand kids. It's not going to be easy flying this summer.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you: I recall we had those incidents with passengers stuck on airplanes for hours with even bathrooms that wouldn't work, and then we have this Passengers' Bill Of Rights that's floating around Washington. Any update on that?

FIELD: Yeah. I think this is the year in which there's a very good chance that a Passenger Bill Of Rights of some sort will become law. At the minimum, you will see laws mandating that if you're stranded on the runway, they have to have a way of getting fresh water out to you. And there will probably be a provision that mandates that the airlines figure out a way to let you off the plane to go back to a gate or the gate or to a hangar if the airplane's been stranded on the tarmac for four, five or six hours.

GREENE: And people just saying get - just get us off that plane for now.

FIELD: That's right. That's right.

GREENE: Well, happy summer travel season to you.

FIELD: Oh, I hope so.

GREENE: We've been talking to independent airline analyst, David Field. Thanks so much for joining us.

FIELD: My pleasure.

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