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Jewish World Review July 12, 2002 / 3 Menachem-Av, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

Next they'll charge
you for the seat belt | OMAHA In one of the most absurd and insulting indignities in current-day American life, most major airlines are now charging money for tickets.

You may be asking: What's insulting about that? Of course airlines are charging money to take airplane flights. They always have.

Please read the first paragraph again.

The major airlines are charging money for tickets. This has nothing to do with the fees charged for flights.

Perhaps you still don't understand the distinction. It is this:

The big airlines, for several years, have been promoting "electronic ticketing." That means that you are given a computer-generated number to signify that you have paid for your flight, and you don't need to present a paper ticket when checking in.

The e-ticket innovation has worked out quite well -- some travelers feared it would be subject to all kinds of screwups, but many people like it and find it convenient and trustworthy.

Quietly, though, most of the major airlines (United is an exception, and deserves praise) have begun charging customers who prefer regular tickets -- tickets printed on paper, the kind of tickets that travelers have been using since the air age commenced -- an extra fee on top of the price of their flights. According to news reports, this fee is usually $10.

That's right -- if you decline to accept electronic ticketing, if for whatever reason you decide that you would prefer to actually be given a paper ticket in exchange for the money you have paid for a flight. . . .

If you say you want a paper ticket, you get the paper ticket -- for 10 more dollars.

The airlines want to encourage you -- force you -- to accept the e-ticketing. They believe you will fall into line if they charge you enough extra money for having the audacity to ask for a real ticket.

Does this remind you of something? It should.

It's the same trick America's banks pulled on their customers within several years of when automated teller machines were introduced. At first, the ATMs were proclaimed as a convenience for the customers -- if you couldn't get to a bank, you could get money out of an ATM, for a fee.

That sounded acceptable -- after all, you could still go to the bank and deal with a teller, if you objected to paying a fee to a cash machine.

But then the banks began charging customers to have a transaction with a teller. The bank conglomerates -- having tried to save money by getting rid of human tellers, and their salaries, and conditioning customers to bank by machine -- then added the ultimate insult by charging those customers an extra fee if they chose not to use the ATMs, and preferred to deal with a teller instead.

Suddenly the seemingly impossible was routine -- suddenly people who put their money in banks were being charged money to deposit it or take it out if they insisted on dealing with a human teller. Dealing with a teller was always one of the basic services that went along with banking -- and now the banks were telling their customers: If you want to talk to a teller, that's extra.

You would think that business could not sink any lower than that. But the airlines have. They are saying to their customers:

We'll be happy to fly you to Los Angeles or Atlanta or Detroit. Here's our price for the flight.

Oh -- you say you want us to give you a ticket to get on the flight? In that case, without apologies, we are going to make you pay us $10 to hand you the ticket.

The worst thing about this is not that the airlines are doing it -- the worst thing is that the public is letting them get away with it. It's like when hotels began charging access fees every time their guests dialed the telephones in their rooms -- fees on top of the usual call fees, fees charged simply for the privilege of dialing.

If you need to get the $10 to give to the airlines for your paper ticket, you can stop off at your bank on the way to the airport.

But if you go to a teller window, expect to be charged $3 for the privilege of withdrawing your $10.

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JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. His latest book is Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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