Want air to breathe on your flight? That’s 25 cents please!

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“Once upon a time….” That’s how many fairy tales start out.

“Airline service…” now there’s another fairy tale.

An old adage says that you can’t get blood from a stone, but certainly if it was possible to wring an airline passenger until the last penny in his wallet fell out, carriers such as Spirit Airlines would have hands around your throat.

We’ve flown Spirit and have found it to be amongst our least favorite time in the air. That was some years ago and from what we understand, it has lived up to that reputation.

Spirit is now facing possible sanctions, standing accused of hiding fees that line its pockets with required taxes and such. Those added fees range up to $17 per passenger.

But even though we have placed Spirit as a permanent member in our Airline Hall of Shame, they are by no means the only ones deserving of inclusion. The problem is that ever since our friends and neighbors in the Middle East have hijacked the price of oil, airline costs have risen dramatically.  To offset this many of them instituted these abominable fees.  And, as with any tax, once it’s there…it’s there.

Airlines have cut back on the number of flights they offer to pack as many bodies as possible into their sewer pipes with wings. They now charge for emergency aisle seating and for other rows with extra leg room.

The latest abomination is the anticipated fee for the privilege of sitting next to your spouse, child or traveling companion. They don’t know what to do next.

We recently returned from a two-week trip to Europe, booked through United but with three of the four legs on Lufthansa. They’ve refused to provide assigned seats for the return flight from Bucharest to Frankfurt.  The reasoning…“We don’t do advance seating for coach.” Just a bit of disrespect for coach passengers, what?

The booking was made through United using accumulated miles. On the way out we booked Business Class and were charged 50,000 miles each plus an administrative fee of $15.05 each.  We are sitting together. The return is another story altogether.

The charge in accumulated miles is 55,000 each plus an administrative fee of $86.96. Adding insult to injury they have added a $25 call center fee. The kicker in all this is that for extra miles and fees, we were only able to book Cattle (Oops.  We meant Coach…) class as opposed to the Business Class for 50,000 miles on the way out.

When contacted about the disparity, a Lufthansa representative passed the buck to United Airlines.  Attempts to get a comment from United went unanswered. The only option was to pony up the added extortion (oops…fees) or take up temporary residence in Bucharest.

The added fee on American, AirTran, Allegiant and others can range up to $20 per rump. If you have a small child the fee to have the little one sit on your lap can be as much as 10 percent of the adult fare. AirTran’s fees will follow the policy set by Southwest when their merger is completed…should that actually happen.

JetBlue has for years been one of our favorite airlines because of what we perceived to be their concern and consideration of passenger comfort. But they too appear to have been bitten by the extra fee virus.

To change a ticket on JetBlue it’ll cost you $100. Not sure why this is so much because it can’t be that much in administrative processing. However, US Airways charges $150 for a domestic change and $150 to $250 for international flight changes. American puts them all to shame with fees ranging from $150 domestic to $300 for international.

Frontier cuts its fees from $150 to $50 with no charge for Classic or Classic Plus fares.

If you want to bring Fido along, even though he’s small and in a pet carrier taken aboard as carry-on, the charge, depending on the airline, ranges from $69 on AirTran to $100 for most of the rest. Frontier does not allow carry-on pets.

Much of the problem with these excess fees is that many of the airlines are not up front about them.  Government consumer agencies used to go after merchants who used Bait and Switch tactics to lure customers into their stores.

That tactic was an advertisement for a product at a very low price. When the customer came into the store either the item was not available and the only other option was a far more expensive version, or there were huge add-ons skyrocketing the price.

This is, in fact, what most of the airlines are doing. They advertise rock bottom fares and then sock the bejesus out of you with add-on fees that can double or triple the cost. And they are looking for and finding more and more things to charge for.

Think of the required information when you board a plane. There is a life preserver either in the seat back or under the seat; if there is a drop in air pressure oxygen masks fall from overhead; you are warned to buckle up the seat belt before takeoff, in rough weather or upon landing. They don’t even serve peanuts on most flights.

There was a time when airlines respected their passengers. Business travelers always received better treatment because they were the bread and butter of the bottom line. But, if the truth be told, leisure travelers paid more than their fair share of airline profits.

The airlines can’t be blamed for trying to stay solvent. The example of the major airlines that have disappeared in recent years is enough incentive for them to charge what is necessary. But the question becomes: “What is necessary?” Spirit Airlines as the possibly worst example of that, scores high on the “soak the passenger” scale. They can contend all they want that they are keeping fares low and that is the reason for the added fees, but like Pinocchio, Spirit’s nose grows with each utterance.

Lufthansa’s act of refusing to confirm seats for passengers from Europe flying coach makes them eligible for the Spirit Passenger Service Award as well. United also ranks high on that list with its sucking dry the customers saved miles accounts.

Can you see the announcements now?

“In the event of a water landing, please swipe your credit card to retrieve a life jacket. Should the oxygen mask drop, insert three quarters into the slot so that you may breathe. You will also be required to insert two quarters to unbuckle the seat belt at your point of arrival. Please enjoy your flight.”