10 Worst Ways Airlines Rip You Off to Save Money

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(Image credit: AP)

I’m a compulsive traveler. Over the years, I’ve consumed a veritable buffet of airline rides on journeys that took me anywhere from across the state to across the globe.

The downside of all this is that I’m cheap. That means cheap airfare, which means exposure to some of the worst the industry has to offer.

Reading the news about Continental this morning reminded me of all the extra suffering airlines put consumers through to cut costs. Continental executives stated in a recent memo that “the airline industry is in a crisis.” Well, duh. The real problem is that the industry’s corporate remedies are becoming increasingly creative in all the wrong ways.

Here are 10 of their most consumer-unfriendly ideas.

10. Not serving food. Poking at ham aspic with a plastic fork was a fun way to pass time on a flight, back in the day.

9. Charging $5 to rent cruddy airline headphones. Then listen to Celine Dion yowling her way through layers of white noise. The honor for this bad idea goes to the now-defunct America West.

8. Flying more slowly. Argh. Don’t we fly in the first place to get somewhere quickly?

7. Conducting lay-offs, then overworking existing staff to the point of belligerence. A couple of years ago, I went to the back galley of an American flight to get a cup of water. Four flight attendants were clustered inside, staring at me with a slit-eyed wariness usually associated with prison guards. When I asked for a cup of water, they told me to get back in my seat. Now. The seatbelt light wasn’t on, but I scurried back anyway, fearing ambush.

6. Outsourcing flights by partnering with a zillion other airlines. Flying four different carriers gets you from Denver to Delhi on the cheap. Unfortunately, they often lose your baggage on the way. Sometimes they even lose you–it took a good friend four days to get to Bangalore after a series of delays resulted in nearly as many missed flights.

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5. Make seats narrow enough to pierce human hipbones. That way, airlines can save costs fitting in one more seat per row. I saw a heavyset man visibly sweat as he tried to negotiate his bottom into one airline’s ultraslim seats–before a 10-hour flight. I know the Powers that Be want Americans to lose weight and all, but sheesh.

4. Weighing your carry-on bag to keep it under 5 pounds. On a recent flight, Vietnam Airways literally wouldn’t let us carry bags that weighed more than a chicken carcass. There was no surcharge–you just had to check whatever weighed more. This seems less like a gas-saving device than a way to employ extraneous authority figures, but still worth mentioning.

3. Avoid maintenance on parts of the plane not 100% essential to flight. Such as shocks. United Airlines has been using this particular practice for years.

2. Charge an extra $15 for checked bags. Remember the days when they considered you a terrorist for NOT having a checked bag? I guess fuel costs have overridden our once-precious Homeland Security program.

1. Sell emergency row seats as “Economy Plus” for $20 more. Arrange your computer booking system so it’s easy to accidentally hit the Yes, Upgrade Me to Economy Plus! button by accident. Then, once you’re on the flight, ask you whether you’re ok with sitting next to an emergency exit.

I know there’s more. Does anyone have any additional bad money-saving devices I can add to this list?

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.