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Keith Alexander

In-Flight Perks Are Steadily Disappearing

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, March 1, 2005; Page E01

Pam Rhodes is willing to make a deal with her airline: If the carrier agrees to cut $50 off her fare, she promises not to order a soda, accept a bag of pretzels, check a piece of luggage or use a pillow or blanket during the flight.

The Chicago-based real estate developer said the airlines have cut so many of her favorite amenities that by now she can go without them. She just brings her own whenever she flies.

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"It's almost becoming a game to see how much [the airlines] will take away in the name of cheap tickets," she said.

With competition fierce, airlines have slashed fares -- now at their lowest in more than a decade -- and at the same time have taken unusual measures to save money. The result is that life inside the cabin isn't what it used to be.

Frequent fliers are adjusting to the scaled-back amenities and even have some suggestions of their own.

Sara Robinson of Oakland, Calif., said airlines should ditch blankets -- which already are hard to find. She says she and most of her friends avoid them anyway. "I don't even want to think of when the last time they were washed," she says.

Jesse C. Negretti of Everett, Wash., said airlines should eliminate all food service, even the cherished hot meals in first class -- but only on domestic flights. Negretti carries fruit and sandwiches on his trips.

Most airlines have already eliminated hot meals and are now charging passengers for buy-on-board sandwiches and snacks.

The growth and popularity of one class, no-frill carriers such as Southwest Airlines has spurred other airlines to find ways to match their lower fares and minimal perks. Southwest doesn't offer in-flight movies, assigned seats or meals -- just fares that can be as much as 40 percent lower than its competitors.

Last month, American Airlines scrapped pillows on all of its domestic and Caribbean flights in a move the carrier said could save more than $300,000 a year.

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