It's a Bummer Summer for Air Travelers

Do your summer travel plans involve stepping onto a plane?

Then you'll love reading this: while it's been a busy one for an industry still licking its financial wounds from 9/11, a battered economy and rising fuel prices, so many flights are being canceled that passengers are near-universally finding they can't get seats to their destinations for at least another day.

Meanwhile, hidden fees have become so pervasive that they now often exceed the original cost of the ticket.

The previous summer bummers are brought to you by Travelmole's David Wilkening.

U.S. airlines cut capacity nearly 9 percent last year, taking planes out of service or using smaller planes on some routes in a scramble to better match the number of seats to customers, he reports. That was on top of a 6.7 percent capacity cut in 2008, according to industry figures.

So, can you play Farmville on that thing?
So, can you play Farmville on that thing?
Photo by Art Hupy/University of Washington Archives

Load factors--the measure of how full planes are--are up as a result, as are involuntary "bumpings" of passengers off flights. (And if you've ever been bumped off a flight, you know how painful that can be. We were walking bow-legged for months!)

There were 23,380 bumpings in the first quarter reported to the Department of Transportation compared with 17,099 the same time last year.

"All that adds up to greater chances that passengers may not be rebooked on a flight later the same day," Wilkening writes, "but quite possibly the next day."

He adds, "The situation doesn't look like it will change soon."

In a separate post that cites Consumer Travel Alliance stats, Wilkening reports that the typical two-bag traveler with extra legroom is paying an average of 54 percent more in hidden fees on popular routes. The one-bag travelers fare somewhat better, paying only 26 percent more, according to the CTA.

The analysis also showed the amount of hidden fees charged to a typical traveler with two bags ranged from 21 percent to 153 percent of the price of the base fare on some specific flights.

"Our analysis showed that the hidden fees charged by airlines now rival the cost of the tickets themselves, often without any disclosure to the consumer at the time of purchase," CTA director Charles Leocha says in the post. "For a family traveling in these tight fiscal times, those fees can be an unexpected shock totaling hundreds of dollars in unanticipated expenses."

His group has called on Congress and the Department of Transportation to take swift action to ensure that all ancillary airline fees are fully disclosed to travelers through every distribution channel, so the total cost of air travel can be compared between carriers.

Until then, bon voyage, America!

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