Make Airline CEOs Fly Coach

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Airlines don't think you will, and given the state of customer satisfaction with the industry these days, they're probably right — which is why we have now entered the Age of Airline Fees.

Yes, those crazy fuel prices hastened the era of airline a la carte fees — though, the idea actually began percolating a few years back. That's when airlines were struggling to come up with ways to make it harder for consumers to compare airline tickets prices on the dreaded Internet. And the airlines did make it harder: sure, the Internet still told you what your basic ticket cost, but if you're weren't paying attention to the fine print on the Web Site, you were in for a surprise at the airport — whether it was that first checked-bag fee, or discovering that your free Coke is soon going to cost you $2.

So here's my plan, or, the start of a plan, anyway — to begin fixing the airline industry.

Fix the Core Issues: Delays, cancellations, luggage.

Use the airline ticket taxes (15 to 25 percent of the airfare) for cockpit GPS technology — you know, that stuff that most of us already have on our cell phones (and do it now — not by the year 2020).

Require airlines and airports to license a working version of a UPS-style "package tracking system" for all bags.

Southwest 101: Mandatory course requirement.

Airline executives would have to learn customer service management techniques from one of America's most popular airlines (and, at the moment, one of America's only profitable airlines)/

Exec Cattle Drive: Fly the way your passengers do.

Require each member of the legacy airlines' board of directors to fly in coach (with two checked-bags, a laptop and carry-on — through New York or Chicago), while passing through normal security lines (at 7:30 a.m. on Monday) and, boarding in the last group. Require board members do this once a month, and report back to shareholders. Wonder how many months it would take before the airlines started fixing delays and lost bags if this were a federal requirement?

Once these have been implemented get rid of the "nickel and dimeing" fees and raise airfares high enough to cover costs (or at minimum disclose during shopping and let us pay for the total trip at the time of ticket purchase).

By the way, don't misunderstand me: Crandall, has a laundry list of laudable ideas, but I am concerned that this yearning for the "good old days" of airline ticket price regulation will keep many of us from flying and that would be a shame — not to mention the potential downstream effects on the U.S. travel economy.

For better or worse, the airlines have become mass transit in this vast nation of ours; and while folks are willing to pay more in difficult times, they still want to ferret out decent deals on airfare.

And the best tool for finding those deals is still the Internet. The Internet is how we do business these days. It's how we help live our lives. It is not going away.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.

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