Flying? Expect less free perks than ever before

I only have the vaguest memories of flying in the “before time” – back when bags were free, meals were provided, and seats were designed to accommodate actual, full-sized adult human beings. Because flying is not that experience anymore. Flying is expensive and flying comfortably is prohibitively expensive. The way things have been trending, the old cartoon trope of sealing yourself in a box covered in postage stamps is starting to look like an appealing option.

It’s in this environment of continuous perk-downgrading that major American airlines have begun to roll out a seating class below economy. That’s right. If you thought economy class seating was a bit too luxurious for your tastes, say hello to basic economy.

Delta debuted basic economy last year, and United and American Airlines will be rolling out their takes on sub-economy seating sometime this year.

As The Economist reported earlier this year, Delta’s version of basic economy is essentially economy minus the ability to select a seat, upgrade a ticket, or change or cancel a reservation 24 hours after booking. In other words, you’re buying what is essentially a nonrefundable/nonexchangeable ticket for a single seat somewhere in the plane (if there are two or more of you traveling together, don’t expect to sit together).

Of course, airlines like Delta aren’t creating new floors to their ticketing structure out of spite. Basic economy is a reaction to the success of “no-frills” airlines like Spirit and Frontier. Those airlines provide almost nothing in the way of basic perks and are extremely profitable, despite often being rated as the worst airlines to fly. It’s hard to fault larger airlines for reading the success of a company like Spirit as a sign that consumers just want to pay less for airfare, no matter how awful the experience may be.

The problem is that as the no-frills approach gains in popularity, there’s a real chance that every basic amenity will eventually turn into a paid perk. Window seats? Those cost extra. Overhead bins? Those are pay-by-the-square-inch. The lavatory? Hope you brought some cash.

The truth is that the days of flying as an experience may very well be over, at least for the majority of us who can’t afford luxury prices. Flying today is just about getting where you’re going. It’s a slightly more stressful (and supremely more expensive) version of your regular hour-long workday commute. We’ll eventually adjust our expectations of what a plane ticket buys you, but in the meantime, it’s hard not to be disappointed that while seemingly every other industry is in a race to see who can give us the most, airlines are in a race to see who can give us the least.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer perk-free flying if it can save you a little money? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.