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Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Wednesday, August 15, 2012, 2:53 PM

You may have noticed your correspondent has been missing in action for a few weeks. A host of health and personal matters have been in the way, but I'm back now with a fresh take on the most important air-travel issue of our time: What does it really cost to take an airline flight these days, considering the fees that you may be hit with as you make plans or while you're on your trip. Here's what I'm talking about, based on personal experience, and later in this post I'll link to some others' writings with the same theme.

My story: I needed to make a last-minute roundtrip to reach my ailing 98-year-old mother's bedside during her final days. I faced what many business travelers and those in my situation face every day. I had just an hour or so to make a decision on which airline to use. Using Expedia, I found a lot of choice, with roundtrip fares from around $300 to well over $700. Would it be the apparently low $298 price on Delta that involved connections both ways, or my usual default choice, Southwest (default, of course, because of virtrually no fees), at closer to $600 roundtrip? Among the considerations, the outbound Southwest flight was nonstop so that was a plus since I needed to get there fast.The total flight times on Delta on the return were a little shorter than Southwest's lowest-priced choices. But with that much apparent difference in the fare, it would seem that Delta should get my business.

Oh, but wait. What about fees that could mean the real cost would be different, perhaps a lot different? I didn't have to worry about checked bag fees in either direction since this would be a short trip with a single carry-on. On Southwest, the only one was the optional "early bird checkin" fee of $10 that puts you among the first 60 or so to board a flight. Before buying from Delta, however, I discovered that when buying only 24 hours ahead, my lack of frequent-flier status on the airline meant that there seemed to be no way to reserve a seat. It looked as if I would be randomly assigned a middle seat on all four legs of the trip.

POSTED: Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 9:16 AM

The people who manage travel for corporations and other organizations are steamed these days about the difficulty they have in knowing the true cost of the airline service they have to pay for, given how much fees imposed by airline aren't transparent to customers. The managers have a great point, since they represent the airline industry's best customers, the ones spending the most money.

From the annual conference of the managers' trade group, the Global Business Travel Association, which closes today in Boston, here are two excellent stories, one about its leaders demanding more full-cost transparency of air service, from a travel agents' magazine, and another a column by the NY Times Joe Sharikey that tallies how much revenue airlines get from fees now. Yes, some airlines wouldn't be profitable without fee revenue but the plea from those paying them is: Give us more information about the full cost of our tickets.

POSTED: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 5:21 PM

That time of the year again, with airlines reporting second-quarter earnings. Southwest was among the first, revealing a good quarter despite high fuel costs. Not a big surprise given how much airlines have trimmed their available seats and raised ticket prices this year.

Yesterday, American's parent AMR reported its first second-quarter operating profit since 2007 but still lost money on a net basis as it struggles through Chapter 11 reorganization. More on that here... 

And here for the archives is yesterday's story about Spirit Airlines anticipated launch of service next year from PHL. No additional comment ... let the airline's record speak for itself.

POSTED: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 5:04 PM

Here in the midst of earnings season, it sure looks more and more likely that US Airways and American could become one big airline in the not-too-distant future. Almost daily there's a new development, or a report that looks like something new, as in a meeting today of the carriers' CEOs. Read about it here ...

POSTED: Monday, July 16, 2012, 10:28 AM

Thje Inquirer's Linda Loyd has an informative story today about questions that some analysts still have about the wisdom of Delta Air Line's purchase of the former ConcocoPhillips oil refinery at Trainer, PA. Read on here....

POSTED: Friday, July 13, 2012, 3:20 PM

We've posted articles in the past about the problem of families not being able to sit togetther on airline flights because of widespread holding "better" seats back for additional fees. Now Airlines fro America trade grup says a proposed federal rule requiring airlines to accommodate families' need isn't necessary because families can plan in advance, and besides, airlines are highly competitive anyway. Of course, were that true, the legislation wouldn't have been proposed in the first place.  Read on about that issue here ..

A related opinion column by the NY Times's Joe Sharkey earlier this week addresses the same problem, but this time for adults traveling together who couldn't get adjacent seats, while other, single travelers are paying extra to sit in aisle seats near the front. If you've paid for an "upgrade" (in the loosest sense of the word) of this sort, does airplane etiquette require you to give up your seat to allow a couple to sit together? Find that piece here ...

Whether you have direct experience with this issue or not, tell us what you think. 

POSTED: Thursday, July 12, 2012, 12:20 PM

Recall that great made for TV story about Spirit over last weekend, the one about taking 19 hours to get a planeload of passengers from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale? Here's a good recap, witth opinion from the Motley Fool, about the airline's approach to doing business. I would disagree only with the headline ... when was Spirit a great airline?

POSTED: Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 6:48 PM

Here for the record is Linda Loyd's Inquirer story yesterday on American saying it's got to think about merger ... and we know what that means ...  Read on here ...

About this blog
Tom Belden has been reporting about Philadelphia International Airport and other air travel subjects for more than 20 years, writing columns for The Inquirer's Travel and Business sections. His reporting (with colleague Craig McCoy) on baggage handling problems in Philadelphia have been credited with helping to improve the system. His previous blog was called Road Warrior. He can reached at tbelden@phillynews.com. Reach Tom at tbelden@phillynews.com.

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