airline fees

Could there be a positive side to airline fees? Photo by Christopher Neugebauer.

Do you remember the good old days of flying when all you did was make one payment for your ticket and that was it? No fees for meals, no charges for checking a bag, no surcharge for seats with extra legroom, and no paying for headphones so you could watch the in-flight movie. Those were the days.

Now it feels like airlines are squeezing us for every last dollar. It’s a pain I’d mostly learned to accept, that is, until the other day when I was booking a flight and was forced to not only pay if I wanted to check a bag, but also to carry one on. In other words, unless I was willing to travel completely bag-less (I’m a minimalist but come on, everyone has their limits) I was obliged to cough up the cash.

At first, I was livid. I mean, how much are we as passengers expected to put up with? But then I got to thinking… and I wondered if there was a different way to look at things. Like, maybe airline fees aren’t all bad? And maybe there are even benefits to airline fees?

Is that laughter I hear? Okay, well hear me out. Here’s why I think airline fees are good:

1. You only pay for what you use

It’s all a matter of perception: as consumers, we feel the pain when we’re nickel-and-dimed for every last service but are content with paying a higher upfront cost that includes all those services. So rather than looking at airline fees as a way of gouging passengers, we should flip the idea on its head: now we can choose what services we pay for. Previously the cost of meals, checked baggage, seat selection etc were included in the fare and we paid that fee regardless of whether we used those services or not (we just weren’t conscious of the fact we were paying).

Fee-for-service travel is actually great for travelers who prefer to bring their own healthy meals onto the flight, or passengers who like to travel carry-on only in order to avoid the wait at baggage claim – just think of it as getting a discount for packing light and eating well! Even in my example earlier, where I had to pay to carry-on my luggage, I was still getting some payoff: the flight was on a budget carrier that had a significantly lower ticket price than competitors, even after factoring in the fees.

2. Many airline services are new or improved

Many things we now pay a fee for are services that didn’t exist previously or are a step up from what used to be available. For example, paying for wifi onboard doesn’t seem so bad when you recognize that onboard wifi wasn’t even available a decade ago. Also, the food that’s now available for purchase on flights is often more interesting and tasty than the bland meals that were once served for “free” since airlines have to provide some incentive for us to purchase the food.

3. You can be sure of getting what you want

Fees for seats that provide extra legroom aren’t bad if you’re tall. In the old days you had to beg and plead for a seat in the exit row and hope it worked out. Now you can ensure you’re not stuck in a bad seat where you’re forced to perform body contortion for the following three hours.

I think the kinds of fees that are genuinely frustrating are charges for anything that you couldn’t actually opt out of, for example, fuel surcharges and taxes. Those should really be included in the fare price. But the rest of the fees? Maybe they’re not so bad. Maybe we just need to look at them differently.

What do you think? Is this just wishful thinking on my part? Do you think airline fees are good or bad?