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Air travellers paying extra for extras

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I hope everyone is able to enjoy this last weekend of the summer before getting down to the usual post-summer stresses many face in September.

Travel is the great stress reliever even though some of the questions this week were written out of stress with airline seating and services.

QUESTION: I have noticed a number of companies are offering pricey upgrades to better seating, even on charter flights south.

In doing so it seems to me the space they have left for us ordinary people has shrunk. Is my perception accurate?

ANSWER: Only a few years ago, as the U.S. economy especially went into a tailspin, airlines had difficulty filling business class seats. All that seems to have changed.

Coinciding with the elimination of comfort services in hospitality class, such as meals, pillows and other amenities, many airlines in the U.S. also started shortening leg room, installing smaller seats, and charging for those extras that were complimentary before.

Perhaps borrowing an idea airlines such as British Airways integrated years before, a new hospitality section has been added by some airlines, often referred to in some form or manner as hospitality plus.

In other words if you don't wish to fly like cattle in a box-car you have to up your investment, which many do willingly on overseas flights.

Business and First Class cabins now automatically have full bed seats in most airlines on long distance flights.

Even Westjet Airlines now charges extra for the convenience of the first two or three rows, or the comfort of an exit row seat. And they have recently introduced a Plus program to attract the business market.

In creating these industry changes, the price equation has also been modified. Experts suggest where the difference in price from economy to first class was once about four-times higher, today it can be as much as 10-times higher.

In marketing terms the strategy appears to be to divide consumers into two groups; the price-sensitive verses the service-sensitive flyers.

Even charter airlines have entered the fray, with an attempt to placate those who want at least a little more than cattle-call seating, and some degree of differentiated service.

Lead by research studies of consumer preferences, new additions to business-class cabins on schedule airlines include ambient lighting, upscale designs and cuisine designed by the best chefs in the world.

It is the trend, and the degree to which our economy performs over the coming years will dictate the direction these wider options take airline planners.

 

QUESTION: While customs clearance in Winnipeg can be fairly fast, unless multiple flights happen to be arriving around the same time, the lines are fairly short and move reasonably quickly here.

But in larger airports such as Toronto and Vancouver, it can be a long and dreary wait after a long flight. While I don't travel all that often, I do appreciate the world-wide trips I have been able to take since I retired. Is there nothing that can be done to speed up these lines?

ANSWER: You can apply for a Nexus card which will definitely speed things up for you as many frequent flyers have found.

However, in the future all of us may be much happier if a new service that is being tested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport takes hold. Currently available only to U.S. travellers, thirty-two touch-screen kiosks have been installed at entry points in the customs area.

As the traveller's passport is scanned, a photo is taken of the person to confirm both match the information already held by the authorities.

Rather than filling out a lot of paperwork, a series of questions are answered on the touch screen. A receipt is printed and the traveller exits quickly, unless pulled aside by a customs official for greater clarification.

Chicago is one of the busiest airports in the world. Prior to the test, the lines took almost an hour to clear. In the test areas, the time has almost been cut in half -- reducing the time from 50 to 34 minutes.

There has been dramatic savings in paperwork, thereby reducing costs to everyone, so there is no reason this process would not be introduced into our largest airports in the future.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 E11

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