BY R.D. Miller
“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams,” sadly has become a reality for many.
Holiday trips are always important to reconnect with family and friends or taking a break from work.
For many immigrants who migrated to countries like England, the US, and Canada; from the Caribbean, Africa, and South America, heading back on holidays are cherished pilgrimages, but slowly becoming only a dream.
These breaks are also an escape from the brutal winter, an opportunity to show sometimes the opportunities migration has provided, and often to give hope and lift others out of poverty who were left.
However, for several years, it seems that only a telephone call (WhatsApp), Skype, and Facebook have become the only way to stay in touch.
These people are not staying away because of canceled flights due to severe weather, long passengers’ lines at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints from and fear of missed flights that remain a concern, or
even losing a few overlooked restricted items to almost undressing before boarding a flight.
However, I believe TSA areas have become an outlet where few travelers vent their frustrations from issues with the airlines.
Shortly after the 2008 global financial collapse, fuel costs went up tremendously, unemployment rose globally, and almost everything slowed that resulted in a recession.
The airlines passed on the added fuel cost to customers by the way of a baggage fee. This added fee saved several jobs, and that was good for the overall economy.
Experts believed that it was temporary, but it has become permanent and no cap about how high it will grow from current rates.
Between 2009 and 2014, experts noted that the industry baggage fees have increased
more than 60 percent and it has now become a billion-dollar fee industry.
Gas prices have since declined and the economy rebounded, but some travels experts argue that government policies or lack thereof have given airlines more access to the flying public’s pockets.
Many low budget passengers looking for bargains have been choked out of the cabin as profit from fees has gotten more attention while service diminishes.
On American Airlines, Delta, United, and others, the first checked bag is about $25 and second $35 and, if you have to get that Christmas gift to Uncle Rupert in the Caribbean and other places, that (third) checked bag fee could reach upwards of $150.
It is better to send a barrel, and that has added fees after landing with additional local frustration.
What next; standing option, extra fees to stretch out your legs, check your wallet and pocketbooks if it is over 5 lbs or an extra fare for being pregnant if the average age for a full-price ticket is now age two.
I am not sure if some of these airlines understand the budget-stricken customers.
Friends and family are cutting back on these holiday trips. They only plan to fly if an emergency forces them to book a flight.
To attract more customers, some airlines are offering credit cards that will cut baggage fees once approved.
I caution that this only could create further debt.
Sadly, one has to spend about $3,000 within three months to receive extra points from the promotions.
These cards carry high annual membership fees, and that can easily amount to few pieces of checked luggage fees. Only a few financial institutions control these cards, and options are limited.
Decades ago, the Caribbean and other poor and developing countries owned several local airlines with international routes.
Today, that once the pride of the region is off the radar from poor management and privatization.
The only issues they have had were late arrival and departures, but if you were 5 lbs over in baggage weight, you were still greeted with a smile and you are on your way with that gift to a loved one.
It seems even the local government in these places has lost the ability to negotiate with these airlines as long as tourists are coming while ignoring the number of money natives who return on holidays spend in the local communities.
Today, a two-star hotel for a family of four vacations with kids under age ten in these islands easily costs over $5,000.
Even changing a booked flight due to an emergency, or any other personal reasons could cost an extra $200, plus any changes in the original fare.
The few cheap e-mail alerts are not often real savings and almost like fake sales:
You are being forced to fly on certain days or an overnight stay, and before an online transaction can be completed, an alert often remains that 30 people have already booked; and now that price just went up 50 percent.
An average flyer today has to be technology savvy with the ability to use multiple search engines to find a decent priced-ticket.
The air has become polarized, as have many ground communities between the haves and the have-nots.
This is what I call the economics of elimination.
Even with some third-party travel insurance to guard against unscheduled events, one needs an attorney to file a claim or interpret the rules.
TSA screeners are not the only issue that has left your pocket lighter from rejected items.
Recently I had to pay $37 for an older carry-on luggage I have used for years, but now considered too big to fit in prescreen bin at check in and now over-weight at 18 pounds.
I reached out to customer service and was told, “I did not pre-check carry-on bag online.” It was up to the check in representative, which I now call a collection agent.
I have seen passengers complain of being charged on return flights for the same carry-on luggage that went through on the outbound now considered too big on the return.
The days of boarding a flight with a home-cooked meal or getting a decent one from the airlines are gone.
Pretzels now rule the air, and baggage fees seem to be more important than their customers are.
Flying now is like an Amazon economy where only the online cart rules.
Today, the once local brick and mortar travel agencies have been diminished with technology and that is not a bad thing.
However, these were cherished agencies where a family could sit with an agent and plan a vacation for a good rate.
I am not totally against some fees and taxes, as they are important to keep travel safe, such as the government-imposed September 11 passenger security fee, and yes to support infrastructure and other employment.
It is no different from tolls on the road to keep it in good and safe conditions.
In addition, airlines are contributing to the economy from millions of employees worldwide.
Flying is also safer than several other modes of transportation, as many studies have shown and the airline industry knows that these passengers will still find a way to get home.
CNN reported recently that the industry saw a 4% increase from last summer’s all-time high of 222 million.
Today, families are more connected globally and so far apart:
Too bad, we cannot drive to some of these places and avoid some of the horrible juices being served on flights or a small bag of pretzel or mixed-fruits, which one needs a knife to open.
I often remind friends or anyone else that the commitment to public safety by these TSA agents cannot be overlooked, as the terrorist networks’ mission is to inflict casualties and one has to stay vigilant because, despite these fees, we still like to land safely.