You probably heard the latest: Airlines around the world are expected to rake in almost $27 billion in fees this year. That's more than the gross domestic products of Iceland, the Bahamas and Bhutan -- combined.
So they're rolling in it. Sure, once in a great while, a carrier like Ryanair will cut fees because, as CEO Michael O'Leary so eloquently put it, you don't want to "unnecessarily p*ss people off." But raising or tweaking fees is far more common. Even Southwest maintains a sensible never-say-never policy for bag fees (though the official line is, no changes for now).
Still, with fees for food, decent seats, pillows, blankets, even fees for cutting to the head of every possible line, what's left? I've got some ideas for fantasy fees but maybe someday you'll find them listed on your airline ticket alongside all the rest of those annoying taxes and fees.
Here are seven fantasy fees of the future, maybe (and feel free to add your own suggestions):
1. Useless equipment fee
"Useless" may be a little strong, but while some new planes are equipped with satellite navigation systems (to save on time and fuel costs) the pace of NextGen airport improvements is so lumbering that there's hardly anywhere to use these excellent gizmos. So maybe it won't come as a surprise when passenger tickets include an unused equipment fee. Estimates for these not-so-new-fangled GPS systems range to up to $670,000 per plane; divide that by the number of passengers per aircraft for each year the system lies dormant -- and voila! Another nice chunk of change for the airlines.
2. Barista fee
Did you know some of the new 777s have cappuccino machines onboard? I know because I had one and it was terrific. But these machines don't grow on trees (though I see Macy's is having a nice sale on the Jura Impressa coffee maker for just $999), so expect a $5 fee attached to your next "free" cup of fancy brew.
3. Adventures with fuel fee
We already pay a heavy fuel surcharge on international airline tickets; in fact on overseas flights the various fees and taxes can dwarf the actual cost of the airfare. But what if an airline is savvy (or crazy) enough to buy its own fuel refinery?
Delta did just that and the latest figures show the refinery is making a profit, a reported $3 million in the third quarter of this year. But don't expect those 'jet fuel surcharge' refund checks anytime soon. In the first two quarters of the year, the refinery reportedly lost $73 million. In Fantasy Fee Land, higher surcharges would cover this fuelish adventure.
4. Lawyer overload fee
I like lawyers. Most are smart, hard-working, there when you need them. Definitely not cheap but most are worth it. Still, I'm glad I'm not a major corporation with bankruptcy and merger issues (I'm looking at you, American). This is what one reporter discovered last year:
"AMR Corp., the bankrupt parent of American Airlines, was billed nearly $20 million a month in fees and expenses from 34 law firms, consultants and advisers [according to then recently filed bankruptcy documents]." --Tulsa World
What do attorneys on such cases make, maybe $500 an hour? Some, probably. But 12 of the attorneys with one of American's bankruptcy-specialist firms (the same one that represented Lehman Brothers in its 2008 bankruptcy) billed $1,000 an hour or more.
We haven't even begun to talk about the legal cost involved in American's merger with US Airways. So passengers, watch out. In Fantasy Fee Land, you could be hit with a new "defray legal costs" surcharge based on length of flight. Say, a couple of hundred bucks an hour.
5. Promises, promises fee
This could be called the Boeing fee. Remember all those Dreamliner delays and the plane's monthslong grounding by the U.S. government? Even now, some airlines still report odd issues cropping up with their Boeing 787s which cost them money. Boeing doesn't talk about what it's done or doing for these carriers but if it's not enough, who pays? Time to pass the hat to the passengers. Or maybe, no more cappuccinos!
6. Mother Nature fees
I appreciate how airlines generally waive change fees in advance of severe weather. This can save passengers money and save the airlines stress from having to deal with the drama that ensues with trying to unwind passengers stuck at connecting or destination airport in the middle of a meteorological meltdown.
Carbon emission fees and headwind surcharges (yes, the Jetstream variety) are but a few of the revenue dehancers that airlines will be looking to recoup from passengers.
7. Flight attendant airplane mode fee
This is a brand new fee for brand new regulation: A charge for ignoring the flight attendant when he or she tells you to put your electronic device into "airplane mode" at take-off. The good news is you won't have to turn your device all the way off, thanks to newly relaxed rules from the FAA. You can connect to your airline's WiFi if available (and a lot of the time it's not available below 10,000 feet). So airplane mode, yes; cellphone calls, no.
Not in airplane mode? There would be a fee for that. Caution: Fees would be automatically doubled anytime a passenger complains to a crew member, "How come I see you making cellphone calls during the descent?" (Good question!)
Here's a thought: Since so many flyers claim they tip flight attendants, this might be the time to see if 10 bucks will get you a flight attendant willing to show how to find airplane mode on your phone or tablet! In Fantasy Fee Land, bribery is sometimes acceptable.