Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Cheap' airline fares are increasingly expensive

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What can fly higher than a commercial jetliner? Give up? Extra passenger and baggage fees.

Penny-pinching travellers might get the punchline, but they're not falling over their luggage laughing, especially when they check in for a flight and discover they've got to dish out extra cash for everything from checked bags to the privilege of sitting next to their child or spouse.

North American airlines reaped billions of dollars in revenue from extra passenger charges last year -- and there's no indication that's going to change any time soon.

Here's the latest from Southwest Airlines. It has come up with the idea that passengers who want to board its aircraft first, even if they're not in possession of a business-class ticket or are disabled, elderly or travelling with children, can do so for a $40 fee.

So, if you've got the cash, you'll be able to jump to the head of the line and get all cosy in your seat before the poor schmucks who can't afford it even get a call to start boarding.

Oh, and the airline keeps padding the bottom line, too.

To be fair, airlines face an ultra-competitive market in which ticket prices are under constant pressure, forcing the companies to look anywhere and everywhere to stay in the black.

But when will it end?

Air travellers already pay a laundry list of extra fees, from fuel surcharges to security charges to insurance surcharges, not to mention improvement fees levied by airports from Kamloops to Quebec City. Tack on taxes and other charges and consumers can be forgiven if they're more than a little confused about how much they're actually going to pay to get from Point A to Point B.

Instead of choosing an air carrier for that trip to Hawaii or a Mexican sun spot based simply on advertised fares, smart travellers will take the time to do more research to determine how much the vacation will set them back when all is said and done.

But if budget travellers really want the best deal, they're going to have to be willing to travel light (no checked bags), be extra patient when it comes time to board, eat before they leave (no in-flight food or drinks) and be willing to sit wherever the airline decides to put them on the plane.

And don't forget, it's not the destination, it's the journey that's all the fun. Right?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2013 A7

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