HIGHTOWER: The great American plane robbery

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If you take the word “free” and rip the “r” out of it, what do you get?

Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower

Two things, actually: You get a “fee” — and then you get mad.

This is happening to millions of airline passengers who are discovering that the advertised price of a ticket isn’t the half of it.

Airlines have added beaucoup fees, charging us for items that previously were — and still should be — free. People’s rage-ometers zing into the red zone when they see that these fees-for-former-freebies will often more than double the cost of a trip.

Like diabolical bankers did years ago, top executives of airline corporations have learned to goose up prices and profits — as well as their own pay — by nickel-and-diming customers. Only, their fees are way more than nickel and dimes.

For example, say you schedule a flight, but something comes up and you have to change the time, day, or destination. Bam — airlines zap you with a $200 fee. Basically for nothing.

Computers quickly make the change, costing the corporation a mere pittance. But rather than graciously accommodating your need and making you a satisfied customer, they pick your pocket and make you angry.

Gouging and infuriating ticket buyers might seem like a poor business model for the long run, but airline CEOs these days insist that their duty isn’t to please consumers — it’s only to make their major stockholders happy by maximizing their short-term profits.

And, indeed, the rip-off is very lucrative for the corporate elite. Airlines pocketed nearly $3 billion last year just from fees they charged passengers who needed to alter their flights.

Forget the old tails of railroad heists. This is a great American plane robbery.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org.