Jan. 11, 2014 -- Remember last summer when United's website suffered a brief nervous breakdown and showed fares to Hawaii and elsewhere for just a few bucks? Well, lightning struck twice; the same thing happened to Delta right after Christmas.
I almost had a nervous breakdown myself when both airlines agreed to honor the tickets. Now that's sportsmanship, especially when you consider we live in the Fee Era, when carriers charge for any and everything from a cup of coffee to a carry-on.
But passengers shouldn't expect too many wins like this. In fact, look for the opposite this year.
1. Fees and Ticket Prices on the Rise
Have you checked the price of oil lately? It hit $100 a barrel in late December (though it's dropped down again since then), and oil is the big reason I predict fares will jump between four and five-and-a-half percent by the end of 2014. This will be after several airline price-hike attempts, a half-dozen of which will succeed. Note: Don't despair; the airlines want you to keep flying, and they know passengers have a price-breaking point. They will not cross it because they don't want to fly a single empty seat.
As for fees, they'll keep on coming. Discounter Spirit has just raised baggage fees again (but only a little), while other airlines can be expected to add them disguised in bundles or as brand new "amenities" (see No. 6 below). Bottom line is the same: You'll pay more. Tip: An easy way to save is by learning how to pack absolutely everything you need in a carry-on.
2. A Few Fare Wars
This is good news for passengers. Especially you road warriors. Watch for more airlines to pull out all the stops to snag high-paying business travelers with nicer amenities. This will be true even with some low-cost carriers such as JetBlue, which announced the launch of Mint late last year, a premium product with lie-flat seats scheduled to take flight in June.
As for leisure travelers, look for the continuation of a simmering war (or a long fought battle) in cities such as Boston, Denver and Los Angeles, where armies of competing airlines keep ticket prices firmly in the cheap range.
3. End of the Merger Era
Now that American Airlines and US Airways are legally one, the question is who is left to get together? There was a brief flurry of talk about Alaska and Delta joining forces, but that died in a hurry and no wonder. What airline wants to face the Department of Justice wringer that AA and US were put through? Airline autonomy will reign in 2014.
4. Fewer Complaints About Flying
Hard to believe but if you were 10 years old when the Twin Towers came down, you're well into your 20s now and strict security, cramped seating and no free meals on planes may be all you've ever known. The rest of us have had years to adjust, so by now we're used to it, which means watch for complaints about airlines and security to go down (and see more on security in No. 7). Zero complaints will never happen, of course, but a threshold has been passed, and we now recognize coach as aerial mass transit. If you do have a complaint about your carrier or the Transportation Security Administration, here's how to file it. But what about complaints regarding bad passengers?
5. More Complaints About Passengers0
The new airline model is Fill Every Seat. Add in an increasing lack of space between seats, and what do you have? A bunch of strangers squeezed together in a claustrophobic metal tube, which is a recipe for disaster, or at least some very bad behavior. This can start as innocently as "Are you really going to use both armrests?" and take off from there. Alcohol only adds to the fun (and I don't mean in a good way). Remember, we're all in this together, so let's keep it together for the brief time we're in the air.
6. Cellphone Calls Will Be Allowed
The catch is, will you actually be able to make calls? The government (the Federal Communications Commission) is finally coming around to reconsidering its ban on cellphone voice calls on planes (which some international airlines have been allowing for years now). This re-evaluation follows the FAA's decision to allow passengers to use tablets and smartphones on planes anytime, including during landings and take-offs. I predict, however, that no airline will allow voice calls because passengers don't want it (and several airlines are already on record as saying no thanks). My second prediction on this matter: If airlines decide passengers do want this amenity, they'll find a way to charge $50 per call.
7. Security Will Ease but TSA Fee Won't
The quicker security program known as PreCheck is expanding to more airports, and you don't have to be an elite airline miles member or belong to a government-trusted traveler program to get it (although that certainly helps). I've been hearing from several nonelites who were pulled out of the main security queue and directed to the faster keep-your-shoes-on line. Watch for more of this in the new year, but do not expect the TSA to disappear. Security and flying will remain attached at the hip for the near future.
As for fees, the Sept. 11 Security Fee that's bound up in your airline ticket and currently costs $2.50 per flight segment is scheduled to rise to a flat $5.60 or $11.20 per round-trip flight this summer.