Upgrades and such, great for the airlines, not so much for the passenger

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Not that far back in the past airlines really were concerned about their passengers.

Comfort and service was number one on the agenda.  Today it seems that all they are concerned with is squeezing every penny possible out of the passenger.

Some airlines are considering implementing a new system whereby coach passengers can pay extra for a hot, first class meal instead of the slab of mystery meat dumped on the tray in front of them.  They will be able to pay extra to beat the lines at the boarding gate (see below for information on beating lines at TSA check points) and a bevy of additional fee added privileges.

Spirit Airlines has perfected the pocket-picking to an art form.  They claim to have the lowest fares available, but a check of the bucket shop lists (CheapoAir, Priceline, etc.) show that is not always so.  Spirit(less) charges for carry-on and just about everything but the air you breathe (oops!  Sorry.  Don’t want to give them any ideas).

Booking a flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth the other day became a harrowing experience.  It led to a suggestion for the airlines that SkyMiles might offer an additional benefit…mental health assistance.

Attempts at booking online became confusing.  Calling a rep on the telephone was not much help either.  Any thoughts of having the rep handle the reservation came to a close when she said there was a $25 charge per person for that service.  They actually charge you to let you pay them.

Back to the website and utter frustration.  A second call to a rep resulted in being passed to a Tech rep who was unable to help.  She finally passed it along to a supervisor who managed to work out the entire booking at no extra charge.

It boggles the mind to think that their airline somehow thinks it is making money by charging for a sales rep to make the booking but having two tech reps spend more than two hours on the phone is somehow cost effective.

Two bookings were necessary because one was being paid fully by SkyMiles and the other by miles and cash.  OK, that was only a minor inconvenience.  If it had not been for the professionalism of the tech supervisor the two and a half hours might have extended to two and a half days.

Next up, an effort to upgrade to Economy Comfort as opposed to Economy Cattle Class.  This particular trip involved four flight segments.  There was a change of planes both ways.  The upgrade charge was $29…for each segment.  That would have added $116 to the cost of each ticket.  And that was for seats that in “the old days” were given as a courtesy.  So for two people the added on fare would have been $232; not such a bargain any more.

It was impossible to get the departure time needed because that was a heavy extra charge as well.

Don’t expect these charges to disappear any time soon as the airline industry is raking in more than $2 billion a year from them.  In all fairness, frequently the ticket charge just barely covers the actual cost of the flight and these add-ons have been not only a game changer for the airlines, but has helped them stay somewhat in the black.

Most passengers have gotten used to these extra fees and learned to live with them.  But the overriding question is…where will it end?  Business travelers have cut back on flights, families are finding it more and more difficult to take a vacation and the average Joe is being priced out of the market.

There are some ways to avoid some charges.  Delta, for example, offers one free checked bag per passenger for holders of its SkyMiles card.  Continental has a similar practice.  It is imperative to check with the airline before departure to determine if they make such an offer with no strings or require that you charge the trip on their credit card.

Passengers should also go online and check the comparisons made by the discount ticket sites such as the aforementioned CheapoAir and PriceLine.  Make sure, however, that you also double check with the airline itself because often these discount fares are no real bargain and you can get a better deal by going directly to the airline.  But do it online so that you are not paying the reservation fee.

We recently mentioned several methods of beating the horrendous lines at security when boarding or Immigration when returning from overseas.  Just in case you missed that, here is a repeat:

Some airlines in cooperation with the TSA have established a program called “TSA Pre-Check” where, if you are a member of their frequent-flyer program, you can almost skate the lines.  You’ll have to apply through each airline you have an account with and they will note it on your ticket.

Biometrics are the space-age method for international travelers using the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Global Entry program.  You’ll be required to come in for a personal interview and take an eye and fingerprint scan.  If approved, you can by-pass the long lines waiting for passport control simply by going to the Global Entry kiosk, scanning your passport and then your eyes and fingerprints.  This is only good for reentry to the U.S. but can be used as identification when flying.

A relatively new program that is good for all travelers, especially frequent flyers, is the CLEAR Registered Traveler Program is perhaps the best of the lot.  The main drawback is that at present it is only available at a handful of domestic airports.  That is about to change as CLEAR is set to add several new airports and plans are in the works for some 30 added locations in the not too distant future.

CLEAR works much the same as the Global Entry program in that you must submit to a background check and provide eye scans and biometrics that will be encoded into a chip on your card.

Upon arriving at participating airports, CLEAR members can skirt the horribly long lines waiting to go through security.  There is a separate entrance that is clearly (no pun intended) marked for them.  They simply walk through and pass security while passengers on the regular line can wait for interminably long periods of time.

 

One of the participating airports, Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW) is notorious for lines that can cause atrial fib for passengers trying to get through.  The lines wrap around numerous times and the wait is unconscionable.  With CLEAR all the member has to do is walk to the CLEAR sign and save upwards of a half hour or more.

There is a fee for both Global Entry and CLEAR.  Global Entry is good for five years while CLEAR is valid for one year.  There is no fee for the individual airlines TSA-Pre-Check.  Remember, GLOBAL Entry is only valid for those returning from foreign destinations while CLEAR is valid for departing passengers.

For further information on CLEAR, check out http://flyclear.wikidot.com/how-does-it-work.

For Global Entry look at https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/main/goes.

For TSA Pre-Check, contact your individual frequent flyer program.

Be aware, however, that for any of these programs, if you have any criminal record you may be declared ineligible.  The computers used to retrieve background information would make the CIA proud.

If you have a mark against you, be sure to declare it.  Honesty is the best policy here and you may be able to obtain a waiver.

As a special gift to our readers, we’ve arranged for a three-month free trial with CLEAR.  If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, go to CLEAR.com and enter CLEARmeT3 in the promo box.  Happy traveling.