The TSA: "the last straw for many travelers"

For Air Travelers, Small Affronts Start to Add Up


The airlines have already taken away the free meals and the pillows. They have been charging for checked bags and extra legroom and raising fares whenever they can get away with it. They have cut back capacity so steeply that planes are nearly always filled to the brim.

Now, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday — traditionally the busiest time of the year — the Transportation Security Administration has imposed tough new security measures.

And that may have been the last straw for many travelers.

Judy Dugan, the research director at Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group, argues that the anger that has welled up against the new security procedures is an expression of travelers’ overall attitude toward air travel.


And don’t expect any change for the better anytime soon. While many travelers may complain about their travel experience, the industry for the first time in years has found a way back to profitability by holding the line on the number of flights they offer.

United States airlines scheduled 526,000 flights in September, according to the Air Consumer Travel Report, down from more than 600,000 in September 2007. And each flight is now fuller. Load factors, which measure how many seats are filled by paying customers, have risen above 80 percent on average at most airlines and will probably be 90 percent or more over the holidays. Only a few years ago, airlines were achieving load factors of 70 percent.

Just between Chicago O’Hare International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York, American Airlines and United Airlines scheduled 1,400 fewer flights in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period three years ago, a drop of 17 percent.

Fees are also piling up. Bag fees, for instance, brought in $1.7 billion in extra revenue in the first half of the year. In many cases, passengers are paying for services that were once free. Changing a ticket on US Airways, for instance, now costs $150 to $250; sending an unaccompanied minor on a Delta Air Lines flight, $100. Pet charge on Southwest, $75; an alcoholic drink on United, as much as $9.

“Air travel used to be glamorous and exciting — and now, it’s just a pain,” said Mary C. Gilly, a professor of marketing at the University of California, Irvine. “Airlines have become very cost-oriented as opposed to service-oriented. They are catering to their investors, not their customers.”

More problems may be on the horizon, some experts say. New federal rules have pretty much abolished instances of planes sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours. But the rule, which went into effect in May, may have had the unintended effect of forcing more flights to be canceled, some airline experts say.

Comment: See Dan Phillips post: TSA's grope-'n'-porn: your experiences, plans, proposals?

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