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March 14, 2006

Northwest chooses another path... prop up revenue to compete with the low-fare guys. Lean up *and* nickle and dime their passengers.

Ya get what ya pay for. Northwest Airlines is going to start charging for some of their aisle and exit row seats. Want that legroom? Guaranteed? Pay $15. They're going to put a percentage of seats up for bid on that basis (I blame eBay). If you're a member of their frequent flier program, you get first chance...

Not all the seats will be covered... yet.

Cron said only 5 percent of the seats aboard a plane and just 35 percent of the exit row seats will be set aside for those willing to pay the extra $15. The rest will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

I bet if it goes well, two things happen. More seats are covered, and the price goes up. Other predictions the analysts are making is that free drinks and snacks will go the way of the dodo, too, and in time for this summer's travel season.

The one thing potentially looming on the horizon, however that I *do* find annoying? Really annoying? Wanna take a bag with you? Fine. Pay extra. Potential $2 a bag "handling fee".

Heh. We get what we pay for. The traveling public has been demanding to fly for as near to free as possible for a long time, and this was, in a sense, inevitable for the fat lazy airlines that can't/won't/haven't adapted to Southwest's business model that drives the low-fare carriers. Those guys are desperate to do anything to get a positive cash flow going, but, apparently, squeezing their passengers is the best they can come up with.

Heh. Y'know what's next. Fare-by-the-pound. Passenger and baggage exceed a certain combined weight... which will be a low one - buck a pound charges. Put me back on the road, that would!

Airports should be fully supportive of this trend, however. They'll sell a lot more prepackaged beverages and snacks. I know what my reaction is going to be. I really dislike being nickle-and-dimed like this, so I'll go without, or, if it's a long enough flight, I'll bring my own, from home, just to deny the bean-counter. And the day they tell me I can't - that's the day I quit flying that airline.

Which is a pretty empty threat at the moment for those guys. I only fly them if I can't get there on Southwest, who in my experience is on time more often, and the people are *far* friendlier to interact with. Your mileage may vary, of course. I don't care about assigned seating - I can count the times I haven't gotten an aisle or window seat on SW on one hand.

Heh. The analysts are calling it "ala cart" pricing. What's the *one* guaranteed thing about a restaurant that prices ala cart? It's more expensive than the one across the street. Sure, if you really manage your meal you can get Great Stuff and mixed as you like it, vice "no substitutions" allowed, but you generally get/eat less (not always a bad outcome, looking down at the waist) and pay more for it, unless you have some real discipline.

Based on my own predilections, I don't think it will net them as much as they think - but it *will* cost them in terms of customer satisfaction. At least until our collective memory fades.

But like I said - we get what we pay for - or are willing to pay for. I'm going to Korea for a couple of weeks. Cutting to the heart of the matter - while flying business class is technically authorized on legs over 5 hours, there are lots of caveats and approval for same was *not* forthcoming. The Armorer doesn't do 12-14 hours in coach any more. Aside from the fact I wouldn't be able to walk off the airplane, Deep Vein Thrombosis is not your friend, but mostly my neck and back injuries from decades of soldiering would pretty much immobilize me if I couldn't stand up and move around.

After exhausting the alternatives to paying the fare differential, I got lucky. Because the client needs the flexibility of full fare rescheduling, I was able to find a business class fare only $300 different from full-fare coach. Yeah, because I can, I'm willing to eat the fare difference. If the client had essentially demanded lowest coach fare, I probably would have declined the trip - there is a limit to what I'm willing to pay for. The trick is for the airlines to figure out what that limit is.

And don't think Northwest is the trend leader here. They may be inside the US, but it's been happening with overseas carriers for some time - I ran into that shopping around for my Korea trip. Other examples of ala cart pricing from the article:

Air Canada charges customers traveling on its lowest fares an extra fee to get a pre-flight seat assignment. Virgin Atlantic customers pay $75 more at check-in for an exit row seat on trans-Atlantic flights. United Airlines charges a distance-based fee or a higher one-time fee for Economy Plus seating, which includes exit rows.

Several of the carriers I looked at had similar arrangements. I went with Korean Air. And the Fairy Godmother Department smiled on me. On my outbound leg... I got bumped *up* to First Class - for my business-class fare.

So, whattaya Road Warriors think?

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