Wednesday, August 13, 2008
JETBLUE BUILT a reputation in the airline industry for offering customers things that weren't available from its competitors. The New York-based carrier offered a brand-new fleet of planes with comfy leather seats and live satellite television in the headrests. Sure, food had to be purchased, but it was food folks actually wanted to eat. But soaring jet fuel costs have forced airlines to take drastic measures to keep from crashing into a sea of red ink. JetBlue's brainchild: $7 for a pillow and blanket on flights lasting longer than two hours.
With each passing day, it seems, another airline announces another novel way to pry more cash out of your hardworking hands. This month, US Airways started charging $2 for water and soda and bumped up the price on alcoholic drinks to $7. All of the major carriers except for Southwest are charging between $20 and $50 for a second checked bag. Then, United, US Airways, Northwest and American imposed a $15 fee on the first checked bag. JetBlue started charging customers for seats with extra legroom this year. And now comes the fee for a pillow and a blanket.
Putting the best face on this latest levy, JetBlue declared in its announcement, "Eco-friendly take-home kit provides high-altitude comfort for the health-conscious traveler." And the $5 gift certificate from Bed, Bath and Beyond that comes with it should be useful when buying hand sanitizer, Zicam and other potions to fend off airborne contagions. Nowhere in the release did JetBlue talk about the 71 percent spike in jet fuel prices over the past year. This has caused the airlines to shed thousands of jobs, cancel routes and retire entire fleets of jets. And it is what has caused them to pick passengers' pockets for extra cash.
But not all the news is bad for the airline industry. This month, the Transportation Department announced that on-time performance and complaints about lost luggage in June had improved over a year ago. With fewer planes set to carry more people to fewer destinations, we're not counting on this being the start of a hopeful trend.