Arthur Frommer

New airline rules hurt air passengers, help corporate profits

Frequently in the world of travel, an airline announces a new rule that is so much to its advantage, so productive of extra revenue for them, that you know for a certainty that every other carrier soon will adopt the same rule. That has just happened on the part of Delta Airlines.

Delta has announced that it will not permit its fares and flights to appear on many of the comparison websites that enable the consumer to see which carrier has the lowest rate for a particular itinerary. That edict has just resulted in the disappearance of Delta flights and fares from the comparison portions of the popular TripAdvisor.com. Access that website and you won’t find a single Delta fare listed in it. If you are a frequent user of Delta, and would like to see how much the company charges for a particular itinerary, you will need to go to the Delta website itself – and to that website only.

In adopting this new policy, Delta has imitated a similar policy that has prevailed for years with Southwest Airlines. Southwest does not permit its fares and flights to appear on many of the comparison websites, and users of Southwest are forced to go only to Southwest’s website to learn how much a particular Southwest flight will cost.

It is clear to me that soon, every airline will adopt a similar policy. The purpose will be not simply to direct every probable Delta passenger to Delta’s website, but to make sure that a Delta passenger also is urged to buy the extra features they can get from Delta: hotel rooms, car rentals, better seating and the like. Delta will earn a great deal of extra income as a result.

Now, it is true that passengers can thwart that effort by Delta by simply consulting the websites of a dozen other airlines going to the same destination. But how many passengers will expend the time and effort to do so? Until now, a single look at the websites of many so-called aggregators will show the passenger all the available options on several carriers at one time. No longer.

An even more drastic measure has been adopted by Lufthansa, the international German airline, to require that trans-Atlantic passengers buy their tickets only directly from the airline, without first consulting a comparison website. From now on, if a Lufthansa passenger buys his or her Lufthansa ticket through another, non-Lufthansa website, he or she will need to pay an extra $12 to $18 to do so. This is a direct effort by Lufthansa to put such popular websites as Expedia or Kayak out of business; and I have no doubt that the same ticket surcharge will soon be imposed by other airlines.

In another contentious airline/passenger issue, an airline industry association has suggested – not required, but suggested, so far – that all airlines limit the right to bring carry-on luggage into an aircraft to bags 7.5 inches deep, 13.5 inches wide, and 21.5 inches long, which is considerably smaller than the size of most carry-ons today. The effort would be to force passengers to check aboard more of their luggage, paying $25 or so each way for each of those additional checked bags. I forsee the airlines adopting this new requirement enthusiastically, increasing their income by a large amount.

It is clear that the pendulum is swinging strongly in the airlines’ direction, worsening the air transportation experience. And the resulting increase in airline profits will soon be so large, and so much greater than necessary, as to provoke a strong consumer reaction. It is possible that we have reached a stage whereby partial re-regulation of the airlines urgently needs to be considered.

Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.

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