The Unrealistic and Unhelpful Expectations of Airline Passenger Advocates

Last Tuesday morning, I was busy trying to corral the kids when I heard the word “airline” coming from the Today Show in the other room. Of course, I shuddered. When the Today Show covers airlines, it’s usually not good. This time, the claim was that airlines were shaming passengers who bought cheap tickets and trying to make them buy up to a higher fare. The example presented didn’t support the claim, but that didn’t stop so-called passenger advocates from screaming bloody murder. The example showed transparency, not shaming, and it should be encouraged. But some passenger advocates can’t praise the airlines for anything, so they had to find a negative angle. That’s not helpful for anyone who is actually trying to improve the experience.

The “shaming” in question is in relation to Delta’s overlay if you choose a Basic Economy fare on Delta.com. This was recently brought up when Rafat Ali from Skift worked himself into a Twitter frenzy about what he called “hate-selling.” Much of his ranting was targeting car rental companies and hotel booking sites, but he did single out a Delta example as well. Passenger advocates saw “Delta” and jumped on it. Others in the media followed their lead.

What was that example? When you do a search on Delta.com, if Basic Economy fares are in the market, you get something like this in your results.

Delta Flight Search Results

As you can see, Delta gives you 3 options. Delta has tried to design this page so that it shows two standard options, the Main Cabin and First/Business ones. There’s also the cheaper Basic Economy option, which is summarized briefly at the top. This option is shown in different colors to really try to hammer the point home that this is something different. There’s a link to “view fare comparison chart,” but in the name of setting expectations, Delta has also done this:

Delta Basic Economy Pop Up

When you click on the button to select the Basic Economy fare, it now prompts you to check a box and accept the terms that come with this fare. It spells out incredibly clearly what you won’t be getting. If you don’t like it, you can click “No” and it takes you back to the search results.

I’ve been critical of how Delta implemented Basic Economy, but this is an example of what Delta is doing right (at least directionally). I love that Delta is making it crystal clear what you’ll get, (or really, what you won’t) if you buy that fare. Could it be that an airline is actually trying to properly set expectations? It looks that way.

You would think that this presentation would be welcomed by those passenger advocates who have been arguing for years that airlines need to be more transparent. You’d be wrong. Instead, they’ve gone against everything they’ve argued previously and now say this is just passenger-shaming and is a terrible thing. Apparently simply increasing transparency isn’t enough. For them, it’s not only a matter of intent, but it’s all or nothing.

FlyersRights.org has loudly yelled at airlines for years to improve transparency. Yet an angry rant on the organization’s blog calls this “passive-aggressive, used-car selling at its best, or worst.”

I reached out to Charlie Leocha, a passenger advocate who runs Travelers United, to get his take. To nobody’s surprise, he was not impressed. Instead he says “Delta is the poster child for misleading and deceptive marketing” and rattled off a laundry list of complaints ranging from hiding award charts to not telling people they don’t have to pay for seat assignments.

I agree that Delta’s handling of award charts is pathetic and wrong, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. As I said to him, “So any move toward transparency is unwelcome unless it’s a complete and total move? I would think even an incremental step would be better.”

Charlie said that was “foolish” and went on to say:

When airlines trumpet the airline-inflicted pain that their product causes passengers, withhold prices for both airfares and ancillary fees that passengers need make valid price comparisons, and mislead and deceive passengers in order to push them to spend more money it reflects a corporate depravity that is shameful.

Right. In other words, everything the airlines do is terrible, so unless they blow up the entire system, then they can do nothing good. That stance is completely unhelpful, because it’s not realistic. Sticking to a utopian ideal isn’t going to improve the situation.

The system is the way it is, and what Delta has done here is put together a very transparent view of what people will not get if they buy this cheap fare. Anyone who buys this fare on Delta.com (online travel agents are a whole different, obnoxious problem) can’t say they aren’t aware of the restrictions that come with it.

What I find most amusing about this whole thing is that if Delta is in fact trying to shame people into buying higher fares, the airline is doing a really bad job of it. What Delta should do is change the wording in that overlay to say something like “for only $20 more, you get a free seat assignment, a changeable ticket, earlier boarding, etc.” Then it should give a big green button where travelers can click to get the higher fare.

But Delta doesn’t even get close to that. If you click no, it just takes you back to the original search results screen. I’d argue this is a real lost opportunity for Delta, and not one that would have been missed if the primary goal was the upsell. Instead, Delta is just sternly pointing out what you won’t get if you buy the fare. That may or may not be the best tactic here, and I’ve gotten into it with others in the industry about whether a positive or negative message is better. But what is clear is that it’s better that Delta does this than nothing at all.

Would I like to see this taken further? Heck yeah. I want to see this kind of disclosure on every fare. I want to see a concise and understandable explanation of change fees, seat fees, boarding priorities, etc. I don’t have a pie-in-the-sky expectation that the entire model will change. I just want to know what I’m getting. Technology isn’t fully there yet because things can vary by elite status and credit cards, but progress is being made.

What Delta is doing here is a great start and sets a framework for how airlines can do a better job of disclosing everything people need to know. Delta needs to do better with it, as do other airlines. But I simply can’t understand the argument that this is a bad thing. The people saying that are people who just want to disagree with airlines regardless of what they do. They want to bring down the system instead of improve it. That kind of stance isn’t helping anyone.

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41 Responses to The Unrealistic and Unhelpful Expectations of Airline Passenger Advocates

  1. Taxpayer says:

    Does Delta spend any effort to provide a concise and understandable explanation of change fees, seat fees, boarding priorities, etc? No.

    100% of Delta’s efforts are to craft “transparent” scaremongering language to drive as many customers as possible to click on “no” and choose a more expensive fare (oh, wait, that *is* upselling!!). Transparency only when it favors the airline is no transparency at all.

    Stop praising the Titanic’s captain for his great skills in rearranging the deck chairs and keeping the band playing. The big picture is that the boat is sinking. This sudden bout of self-serving transparency doesn’t reduce the urgent need to fix airlines anti-consumer practices by a single bit.

    You just want to agree with airlines regardless of what they do. You want to tolerate the system instead of improve it. That hurts us taxpayers.

    • Neil S says:

      Not quite sure what “taxpayers” have to do with this. It’s about the airlines’ customers, or…passengers.

      We Americans are lazy. We click “agree” on tons of stuff online without reading the entire list of conditions, and then we get super mad when we find out that we’ve agreed to something we didn’t like.

      I fly Delta almost exclusively, and have never had a problem figuring out the fees, rules, and issues. And I know a lot of people who fly a lot less than I do who also aren’t shocked when the fees happen.

      Sorry, but I just don’t get this argument. Titanic? Deck chairs? What exactly are you talking about?

      • frequentflier says:

        Taxpayer is waiting for the day when socialist America will have the government paying for the lower airfares because “it is everyone’s constitutional right to fly” to Disneyworld for nothing so you can spend $110.00 a day to visit a park, “for the kids”.
        It seems like nothing the airlines do pleases anyone. Airfares did not go down when the cost of fuel went down, but neither did the cost of groceries, the surcharge on taxi’s the fuel surcharge on FEDEX etc…those are ok, but the airlines are dirt bags….

        Too bad we can’t go back to the old days, two fare classes, First Class and Economy, all the prices were listed in a time table, all the airlines charged the same fares. People dressed like civilized humans, no hairy armpits on my shared arm rest and no bare ass cheeks on the seats…..the good old days

        • Fank of America says:

          You mean the good ‘ol days when the airlines were regulated and the fares were set by the government so the airlines could make money at 50% load factors and had to compete on service, not price?

          • frequentflier says:

            Yes I do miss those days. But if you wanted to fly to LA from JFK you could have chosen AA, TWA, United, Delta, NWA, now the options are much different

  2. Robert Green says:

    So Delta now requires me to check a box AND click on yes to some scary language if I want to buy a fare it doesn’t want to sell me.

    But for a regular fare the scary provisions, such that the change fee is higher than the fare itself, or that bags don’t fly free, are not mentioned anywhere except as tiny links at the end of one page. And this is what you see (so much for transparency):

    CHANGES/REFUNDS CANCEL-NON REFCHANGE-200.00 USDFOR ALL CONDITIONS SEE TEXT RULE

    and, one more click later on “view full fare rules”, I see this (wiht the exact spacing):

    APPLICATION RULE MAIN CABIN FARES APPLICATION CLASS OF SERVICE THESE FARES APPLY FOR ECONOMY CLASS SERVICE. CAPACITY LIMITATIONS SEATS ARE LIMITED ADVANCE RES/TKTG RESERVATIONS FOR ALL SECTORS ARE REQUIRED AT LEAST 21 DAYS BEFORE DEPARTURE OF EACH TRIP. TICKETING FOR DEPARTURE OF EACH TRIP MUST BE COMPLETED WITHIN 1 DAY AFTER RESERVATIONS ARE MADE OR AT LEAST 21 DAYS BEFORE DEPARTURE WHICHEVER IS EARLIER. MINIMUM STAY FOR TRAVEL ON/BEFORE 21NOV 15 TRAVEL FROM LAST STOPOVER MUST COMMENCE NO EARLIER THAN THE FIRST SUN AFTER DEPARTURE FROM FARE ORIGIN. FOR TRAVEL ON/AFTER 22NOV 15 AND ON/BEFORE 25NOV 15 TRAVEL FROM LAST STOPOVER MUST COMMENCE NO EARLIER THAN THE FIRST THU AFTER DEPARTURE FROM FARE ORIGIN. NOTE – FOR TRAVEL ON/AFTER 26NOV15 AND ON/BEFORE 27NOV15 NO MINIMUM STAY REQUIRED FOR TRAVEL ON/AFTER 28NOV 15 AND ON/BEFORE 16DEC 15 TRAVEL FROM LAST STOPOVER MUST COMMENCE NO EARLIER THAN THE FIRST SUN AFTER DEPARTURE FROM FARE ORIGIN. FOR TRAVEL ON/AFTER 17DEC 15 AND ON/BEFORE 23DEC 15 TRAVEL FROM LAST STOPOVER MUST COMMENCE NO EARLIER THAN THE FIRST SAT AFTER DEPARTURE FROM FARE ORIGIN. NOTE – FOR TRAVEL ON/AFTER 24DEC15 AND ON/BEFORE 25DEC15 NO MINIMUM STAY REQUIRED FOR TRAVEL ON/AFTER 26DEC 15 AND ON/BEFORE 30DEC 15 TRAVEL FROM LAST STOPOVER MUST COMMENCE NO EARLIER THAN THE FIRST SAT AFTER DEPARTURE FROM FARE ORIGIN. NOTE – FOR TRAVEL ON/AFTER 31DEC15 AND ON/BEFORE 01JAN16 NO MINIMUM STAY REQUIRED FOR TRAVEL ON/AFTER 02JAN 16 TRAVEL FROM LAST STOPOVER MUST COMMENCE NO EARLIER THAN THE FIRST SUN AFTER DEPARTURE FROM FARE ORIGIN. MAXIMUM STAY TRAVEL FROM LAST STOPOVER MUST COMMENCE NO LATER THAN 30 DAYS AFTER DEPARTURE FROM FARE ORIGIN. BLACKOUTS TRAVEL IS NOT PERMITTED 28NOV 15 THROUGH 30NOV 15. TRVL RESTRICTION VALID FOR TRAVEL COMMENCING ON EACH TRIP ON/AFTER 13AUG 15. TRAVEL ON THIS FARE COMPONENT MUST COMMENCE BY MIDNIGHT ON 16DEC 15. DAY/TIME PERMITTED TUE/WED/SAT. CHILD DISCOUNT GENERAL RULES TEXT 1ST INFANT UNDER 2 WITHOUT A SEAT – NO CHARGE TICKET DESIGNATOR – IN00. MUST BE ACCOMPANIED ON ALL FLIGHTS IN SAME COMPARTMENT BY ADULT OR – INFANT UNDER 2 WITH A SEAT – CHARGE 100 PERCENT OF THE FARE. MUST BE ACCOMPANIED ON ALL FLIGHTS IN SAME COMPARTMENT BY ADULT. SURCHARGES IF INFANT 0-1 WITHOUT A SEAT. THERE IS NO CHARGE FOR TRAVEL PER FARE COMPONENT. A SURCHARGE OF USD 9.30 PER FARE COMPONENT WILL BE ADDED TO THE APPLICABLE FARE FOR TRAVEL. NOTE – THIS PEAK TRAVEL SURCHARGE IS ASSESSED ON A FARE COMPONENT BASIS. FLIGHT APPLIC THE FARE COMPONENT MUST BE ON ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING DL FLIGHTS 1 THROUGH 2659 DL FLIGHTS 2784 THROUGH 5930 DL FLIGHTS 5959 THROUGH 6022 DL FLIGHTS 6026 THROUGH 9784 DL FLIGHTS 9791 THROUGH 9999 IN COMBINATION WITH ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING DL FLIGHTS 1 THROUGH 2659 DL FLIGHTS 2784 THROUGH 5930 DL FLIGHTS 5959 THROUGH 6022 DL FLIGHTS 6026 THROUGH 9784 DL FLIGHTS 9791 THROUGH 9999. NOTE – 1. MAINLINE TO MAINLINE 2. NO DELTA SHUTTLE THE FARE COMPONENT MUST BE ON ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING DL FLIGHTS 1 THROUGH 2659 DL FLIGHTS 2784 THROUGH 5930 DL FLIGHTS 5959 THROUGH 6022 DL FLIGHTS 6026 THROUGH 9784 DL FLIGHTS 9791 THROUGH 9999. NOTE – 1. NO DELTA SHUTTLE. TRANSFERS 2 TRANSFERS PERMITTED IN EACH DIRECTION ONLINE ON THE PRIMARY CARRIER FARE BREAK AND EMBEDDED SURFACE SECTORS NOT PERMITTED ON THE FARE COMPONENT. ENDORSEMENTS THE ORIGINAL AND THE REISSUED TICKET MUST BE ANNOTATED – NONREF/PENALTY APPLIES – IN THE ENDORSEMENT BOX. SALE RESTRICTION TICKETS MAY NOT BE SOLD IN VENEZUELA/ARGENTINA. TICKETS MAY ONLY BE SOLD IN AREA 1/AREA 2/AREA 3. PENALTIES CANCELLATIONS TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF CANCEL/NO-SHOW. CHANGES CHARGE USD 200.00 FOR REISSUE/REVALIDATION/UNTICKETED PTA. NOTE – THE USD 200.00 IS AN ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICE CHARGE -ASC-. —-TICKET VALIDITY—- TICKET IS VALID FOR 1 YEAR FROM THE DATE OF ISSUE AND ALL TRAVEL MUST BE COMPLETED WITHIN VALIDITY PERIOD. IF EXCHANGED WHETHER TRAVEL WAS STARTED OR NOT THE TICKET MUST BE REISSUED AND ALL TRAVEL COMPLETED WITHIN 1 YEAR FROM THE ORIGINAL DATE OF ISSUE. . —-SAME DAY CONFIRM/SDC—- A. REQUEST MUST BE MADE PRIOR TO THE ORIGINAL TICKETED DEPARTURE TIME. REQUEST MAY BE MADE UP TO 24 HOURS PRIOR TO ORIGINAL TICKETED DEPARTURE TIME. B. NEW CONFIRMED DEPARTURE TIME MUST STILL BE ON THE SAME DAY AS THE ORIGINAL TICKETED DEPARTURE. C. USD50.00 FEE PLUS ANY DIFFERENCE IN GOVERNMENT IMPOSED ITINERARY BASED FEES/TAXES. D. MUST BE SAME ORIGIN/DESTINATION CHANGES FROM NONSTOP TO CONNECTION ARE ALLOWED ONLY IF THE CONNECTING POINT IS PERMITTED BASED ON FARE RULES. E. SAME BOOKING CLASS AS ORIGINAL FLIGHT MUST BE AVAILABLE. F. IF THE REQUESTED CHANGE IS NOT APPLICABLE/ AVAILABLE FOR THE FARE PURCHASED IE INVALID ROUTING/AIRPORT/ETC THE CUSTOMER MAY UPGRADE TO A FARE THAT DOES PERMIT THOSE CHANGES USING NORMAL REISSUE PROCEDURES OF PAYING ANY FARE DIFFERENCE PLUS ASC. . —-SAME DAY PAID STANDBY/SDSB—- A. APPLIES TO FLIGHTS PRIOR TO TICKETED DEPARTURE TIME ON THE SAME DAY OF TICKETED DEPARTURE. B. REQUEST MAY BE MADE UP TO 24 HOURS PRIOR TO ORIGINAL TICKETED DEPARTURE TIME. C. USD50.00 FEE D. MUST BE SAME ORIGIN/DESTINATION/CONNECT POINTS AS ORIGINALLY TICKETED NO ROUTING CHANGES PERMITTED. E. THERE MUST BE AVAILABILITY WITHIN THE SAME CABIN AS ORIGINALLY TICKETED. . —-TICKET REISSUE PROCEDURES—- THE VALUE OF THE NEW TICKET CAN BE LOWER/EQUAL/HIGHER THAN THE VALUE OF THE ORIGINAL TICKET. IF LOWER – ANY DIFFERENCE IN FARE LESS THE CHANGE FEE WILL BE RETURNED TO THE PASSENGER IN A NON-REFUNDABLE DELTA TRAVEL VOUCHER AT TIME OF REISSUE. IF EQUAL/HIGHER – COLLECT THE CHANGE FEE AND ANY DIFFERENCE IN FARE AT TIME OF REISSUE. FLIGHTS MUST BE REBOOKED AND TICKET REISSUED AT TIME OF CHANGE. . –WHOLLY UNUSED TICKET– I. CHANGES TO OUTBOUND PORTION OF UNUSED TICKETS A. ISSUE A NEW TICKET – CANCEL AND START OVER 1. MUST USE CURRENT FARES 2. VALIDATE ALL FARE RULES 3. VALUE OF ORIGINAL TICKET LESS CHANGE FEE MAY BE APPLIED TOWARD THE PURCHASE OF A NEW TICKET II. CHANGES TO CONTINUING/RETURN PORTION OF UNUSED TICKETS A. ATTEMPT TO KEEP THE FARES AS TICKETED 1. CANNOT CHANGE ORIGIN/DESTINATION OF ANY FARE COMPONENT 2. VALIDATE ALL FARE RULES 3. ADVANCE RES IS MEASURED FROM ORIGINAL TICKET DATE TO DEPARTURE OF PRICING UNIT 4. MUST BE ABLE TO KEEP THE ORIGINAL FARES AS TICKETED FOR ALL FARE COMPONENTS 5. USE HISTORICAL FARES IN EFFECT ON THE DATE OF THE ORIGINAL TICKET ISSUE DATE -OR- B. REPRICE USING FARES IN EFFECT WHEN TICKET WAS ORIGINALLY ISSUED – USING HISTORICAL FARES 1. NO CHANGES ALLOWED TO THE FIRST FARE COMPONENT 2. WHEN SAME FARES USED – ALL RULES AND BOOKING CODE PROVISIONS MUST BE MET 3. NEW TICKET MAY BE LOWER OR EQUAL OR HIGHER VALUE THAN PREVIOUS TICKET 4. VALIDATE ALL FARE RULES 5. ADVANCE RES IS MEASURED FROM ORIGINAL TICKET DATE TO DEPARTURE OF PRICING UNIT -OR- C. ISSUE A NEW TICKET – CANCEL AND START OVER 1. MUST USE CURRENT FARES 2. VALIDATE ALL FARE RULES 3. VALUE OF ORIGINAL TICKET LESS CHANGE FEE MAY BE APPLIED TOWARD THE PURCHASE OF A NEW TICKET . –PARTIALLY USED TICKET– I. CHANGES TO PARTIALLY USED TICKETS A. ATTEMPT TO KEEP THE FARES AS TICKETED 1. CANNOT CHANGE ORIGIN/DESTINATION OF ANY FARE COMPONENT 2. NO CHANGES TO FULLY FLOWN FARE COMPONENTS 3. VALIDATE ALL FARE RULES 4. ADVANCE RES IS MEASURED FROM ORIGINAL TICKET DATE TO DEPARTURE OF PRICING UNIT 5. MUST BE ABLE TO KEEP THE ORIGINAL FARES AS TICKETED FOR ALL FARE COMPONENTS 6. USE HISTORICAL FARES IN EFFECT ON THE DATE OF THE ORIGINAL TICKET ISSUE DATE -OR- B. REPRICE KEEPING FARES FOR FLOWN FARE COMPONENTS AND REPLACE UNFLOWN FARE COMPONENTS USING HISTORICAL FARES 1. NO CHANGES TO FULLY FLOWN FARE COMPONENTS 2. WHEN SAME FARES USED – ALL RULES AND BOOKING CODE PROVISIONS MUST BE MET 3. NEW TICKET MAY BE LOWER OR EQUAL OR HIGHER VALUE THAN PREVIOUS TICKET 4. VALIDATE ALL FARE RULES 5. ADVANCE RES IS MEASURED FROM ORIGINAL TICKET DATE TO DEPARTURE OF PRICING UNIT 6. USE HISTORICAL FARES IN EFFECT ON THE DATE OF THE ORIGINAL TICKET ISSUE DATE -OR- C. REPRICE REPLACING FARES FOR FLOWN FARE COMPONENTS WITH HISTORICAL FARE/S IN AN EQUAL OR HIGHER BOOKING CLASS AND REPLACE UNFLOWN FARE COMPONENTS USING HISTORICAL FARES 1. NO CHANGES TO FULLY FLOWN FARE COMPONENTS 2. NEW TICKET MAY BE LOWER OR EQUAL OR HIGHER VALUE THAN PREVIOUS TICKET 3. VALIDATE ALL FARE RULES 4. ADVANCE RES IS MEASURED FROM ORIGINAL TICKET DATE TO DEPARTURE OF PRICING UNIT 5. USE HISTORICAL FARES IN EFFECT ON THE DATE OF THE ORIGINAL TICKET ISSUE DATE 6. REPLACEMENT FARES FOR FLOWN FARE COMPONENTS MUST BE OF EQUAL OR HIGHER BOOKING CLASS THAN THE ORIGINAL TICKETED FARE 7. USE BOOKING CLASS HIERARCHY WHEN REPLACING FARES FOR FLOWN FARE COMPONENTS THE HIERARCHY IS ECONOMY CLASS – Y B M S H Q K L U T X V E PREMIUM ECONOMY CLASS – W BUSINESS CLASS – J C D I Z FIRST CLASS – F P A G -OR- D. ISSUE A NEW TICKET 1. APPLY RESIDUAL VALUE /IF ANY/ LESS THE CHANGE FEE TOWARD THE PURCHASE OF A NEW TICKET 2. CALCULATE NEW TICKET USING CURRENT FARES 3. VALIDATE ALL RULES COMBINABILITY DOUBLE OPEN JAWS NOT PERMITTED. APPLICABLE ADD-ON CONSTRUCTION IS ADDRESSED IN MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS – CATEGORY 23. END-ON-END END-ON-END COMBINATIONS PERMITTED. VALIDATE ALL FARE COMPONENTS. SIDE TRIPS PERMITTED. PROVIDED – COMBINATIONS ARE FOR CARRIER DL/AF/KL/AZ/VA/ZK/VS OPEN JAWS/2-COMPONENT CIRCLE TRIPS/MULTI-COMPONENT CIRCLE TRIPS FARES MAY BE COMBINED ON A HALF ROUND TRIP BASIS WITH DL FARES IN ANY RULE AND TARIFF. -TO FORM SINGLE OPEN JAWS. A MAXIMUM OF 2 FARE COMPONENTS PERMITTED. MILEAGE OF THE OPEN SEGMENT MUST BE EQUAL/LESS THAN MILEAGE OF THE SHORTEST FLOWN FARE COMPONENT. -TO FORM 2-COMPONENT CIRCLE TRIPS -TO FORM MULTI-COMPONENT CIRCLE TRIPS A MAXIMUM OF 2 FARE BREAK POINTS PERMITTED. END-ON-END END-ON-END COMBINATIONS PERMITTED WITH FARES FROM/TO LWB/MEI/MSL/PIB/TUP/GLH/MCN/BIL. VALIDATE ALL FARE COMPONENTS. SIDE TRIPS PERMITTED. PROVIDED – COMBINATIONS ARE FOR CARRIER DL/WP/3M NOTE – THE CITY PAIRS BELOW ARE CONSIDERED THE SAME POINT- BWI-WAS FLL-MIA LAX-ONT LAX-SNA NYC-EWR OAK-SFO OAK-SJC SFO-SJC LAX-BUR ROUTING 717 FROM-TO MSP-FLL* FROM-TO MSP-RDU/BOS/NYC/ORL/SLC/MEM/DTT/CVG/ ATL-FLL* NOTE – THE CITY PAIRS BELOW ARE CONSIDERED THE SAME POINT- BWI-WAS FLL-MIA LAX-ONT LAX-SNA NYC-EWR OAK-SFO OAK-SJC SFO-SJC LAX-BUR ROUTING 717 FROM-TO MSP-FLL* FROM-TO MSP-RDU/BOS/NYC/ORL/SLC/MEM/DTT/CVG/ ATL-FLL* >+

  3. RedFox says:

    I was 100% expecting Chris Elliot to be one of the people yelling about this … since he is a joke.

    • Jo Johnsen says:

      Agree.
      Chris Elliot mostly features letters from idiots who want nonrefundable tickets refunded because gosh ‘my special need trumps the rules I agreed to.”

      Elliot is beyond a joke he is bad for the media.

  4. A says:

    I caught this when it was in the news last week and thought similar. The local news (as I recall) was saying it’s preying on the novice traveler who doesn’t know you can get “some” perks without paying. They singled out the preferred seats like exit rows and some aisle/window seats towards the front. Doubt they were talking about comfort+ but maybe.

    I just don’t see this as an apples to apples comparison. Delta tells you that you don’t get to pick your seat with the cheap fare which is entirely true – full disclosure. Sure, you can sometimes get a preferred seat assigned at the gate for nothing. But there have been many times I got gate assigned a middle seat in the back of the plane. It’s a crap shoot. My experience with Delta gate agents has been almost entirely positive and they are very accommodating at putting families together, etc. for those w/out seat assignments. Not sure what the “advocates” want – Delta to put a smiley face on the price and say “don’t worry, we’ll work it out for you at the gate.” What if they can’t, then what? If you don’t want to take chances pay up, simple enough, right? I’ve paid far more than $20 for piece of mind before.

  5. Errol says:

    DAL recently “lost” seat booking that was made over a month previous to flight. Seats no longer available on day of flight. Forced to pay for an upgrade to get similar seats.

  6. Bon_Jovi says:

    My company’s travel agent doesn’t read any disclaimers before booking me in basic economy discomfort :(

  7. Oliver says:

    You don’t get to be on TV for praising the airline for putting up that warning.

    How are some of those “flyers rights” organizations funded, and how much do those spokespeople get paid? Flyersrights dot org has a big donate button. For a while it seemed that Kate Hanni was making a career out of being stuck on a plane for an extended period of time.

    • Oliver – I have no clue. In theory it’s through donations, but I don’t know if that’s individual or more corporate donations from companies that have a vested interest in poking the airlines for one reason or another.

    • Oliver says:

      Most of this “flyer’s rights” funding comes from the GDSs. It’s not about consumer rights, it’s all about corporate interests.

      • Nick Barnard says:

        Hrm CF.. Any truth to that?

        It would definitely explain the GDSes stance and what they choose to complain about.

        • Nick – I don’t know about these groups specifically, but the GDSs do put a bunch of money into things like this. Probably the best known is Kevin Mitchell’s Business Travel Coalition. That’s a bunch of GDS money that conveniently fights for what the GDSs want in the name of consumer rights.

  8. MeanMeosh says:

    The bottom line is, nothing will satisfy these folks short of the full re-regulation of the airlines, including seat pitch, and banning of ancillary fees, with airfares set at a level that they believe is reasonable (eventually accompanied, I would guess, with a demand that taxpayers subsidize fares when the Constitutional right to fly from JFK to LAX and back for $199 proves to be unsustainable). Short way of saying, I wouldn’t even bother trying to argue, because it’ll accomplish nothing except for giving you a headache.

    All that being said, where there is *something* of a point is, why all this full disclosure for Basic Economy, but not for other fare levels? I think calling it “seat shaming” is inaccurate and unhelpful, but if Delta has the ability to be so clear and concise with Basic Economy, why not with regular coach? Yes, I get there are technological limitations, and so while I don’t see it that way, I can see where people would think Delta is being a little sneaky.

    • I wasn’t a fly on the wall at Delta when this decision was made, but what I’m betting is they put the Basic Economy fare in the market, and they got a bunch of complaints that boiled down to people didn’t know what they were buying. People probably figured that Basic Economy was the same product that Main Cabin is, most people just have the first class/coach class dividing line in their mind, and that there is another cheaper product that looks a lot like coach class, but isn’t.

      If anything this was put into place because Delta was listening to their customers and trying to ensure that they were properly informed.

  9. David SF eastbay says:

    I saw that story online and didn’t even click to read it since I know it would be crap written by an ‘expert’ in the field, so would be all twisted to confuse people who don’t fly much and to get their few minutes of fame which it seems they did on the Today Show.

    That’s the one major draw back about the internet, all these news websites who have to keep filling up their home page with different news stories will publish anything to get someone to click on the story so they can seel ad space by saying ‘look how many people use our site and will see your ad’.

  10. Billy says:

    I do think that they have a point. Unfortunately, sometimes consumer protection bodies shout so much you stop paying attention and miss when they actually have something to say.
    Airlines are making their basic product so unattractive that your feel that you must upsell to get what was once a basic provision.

    • Customers have become so price sensitive that airlines must find any way they can to differentiate the products they offer so they can get customers in the door with price leaders, while still finding a way to keep the frequent fliers happy.

      I haven’t done the comparison, but on an inflation adjusted basis, airfares still are cheaper than they were in the 70s. Oh, and its also safer to fly than it was in the 70s.

      • billyshearer says:

        That’s not really the customers fault.
        Loss leading pricing is a commercial decision.
        (As is negatively-selling your product)

        • Nick Barnard says:

          Is it the individual customer’s fault? No.

          Is it the customer’s collective fault? Yes.

          Sure you can make a pizza too cheap that no one will want to eat it, and you can make an airline flight too cheap that no one will want to fly on it, but right now people are still flying on it. Right now people want cheap airline tickets so airlines are giving them that option. They’ve also given other options as well.

  11. southbay flier says:

    I think a lot of these “passenger advocates” would love to see the airline industry as it was in 1976. It’s not going to happen.

    Spirit is known for poor on-time performance and lots of DOT complaints and yet it is one of the, if not the most profitable airline in the US and that’s because they offer cheap fares and nothing else. People seem to love cheap fares even if it means torturing yourself to get from point A to point B.

    What Delta is offering is a step up from that; a seat with at least 2″ more pitch with free drinks and snacks and yet the “advocates” are complaining because it’s not the 1976 utopia they want in the industry.

    • Robert Green says:

      > I think a lot of these “passenger advocates” would love to see the airline industry as it was in 1976.

      That is a lie and you know it very well. They want airlines to be subject to the same free-market rules on transparency that your corner market has to follow but that airlines are exempt from.

      • Nick Barnard says:

        Perhaps the same free market rules on transparency that Comcast and Verizon are subject to?

        Oh wait. They get to play this game too.

        Sent from my computer that moonlights as a phone.

      • southbay flier says:

        I wasn’t kidding. These “advocates” bemoan the loss of changeable tickets, leg room, meals, and just about anything else that has changed for the worse since deregulation.

        As for transparency, I always thought it was odd to go to a store and see an item for $0.99 and then pay $1.07 for it. Airline tickets are one of the few items that have all their taxes and fees rolled into the initial price I see. The only other thing I can think of is gasoline.

      • Realist says:

        You mean like the way that manufacturers reduce the package size/product amount but keep the price the same so you have to squint and try to see the unit price? Interestingly the Federal government uses the total price (not unit price) to report inflation so they can lie to us and tell us there is no inflation; are you also outraged at that practice?

  12. Grichard says:

    I figure both sides are right. If you just look at the pop-up warning by itself, it seems like a pretty reasonable precaution. Delta is trying to keep passengers from being upset when they find their ticket doesn’t have some privilege that they’re otherwise used to.

    But Robert Green, above, makes an important point: this is a pretty different warning than the disclosures about stuff like checked bag fees and change fees. There, the airline seems to try to hide the warnings as much as is permissible.

    The difference, presumably, is that the buyup from basic economy is small and elective. Delta *wants* to attract passengers with the cheap advertised basic economy fares, but then scare them into the $20 buyup once they’re on the site. Bag and change fees, on the other hand, are only semi-elective to passengers, and often crop up after the ticket purchase. So airlines do better to downplay those fees, and don’t really care if passengers feel ill-used once the ticket is already purchased. (And frequent customers, whose good will matters, are often exempt from those fees.)

    I don’t have any problem with the warning that Brett shows in the post, but I won’t be draping a halo around the widget just yet, thank you.

  13. flyingdawg says:

    I understand the need for DL to offer the Basic Economy fare on routes where they compete with Spirit and/or Frontier. And I personally like the way they make it clear what you are purchasing. But I’ve seen on more than one occasion where the Main Cabin fare was less expensive than the Basic Economy fare….go figure.

  14. David M says:

    I think these groups that are pushing for “transparency” aren’t being transparent about their goals. Like other commenters have said, they’re really pushing for a return to the days of all inclusive fares and in-flight steaks economy on 90 minute flights. But with the fares of today. Or to put it another way, they want Singapore Suites at Spirit fares.

    But nobody will take them seriously if they put it like that. Telling people that you don’t like their business model likely won’t get you very far in a free market economy. But complaining about “transparency” insinuates they’re deceiving consumers, and the government tends not to like that.

  15. tharanga says:

    Yeah, the complaints here don’t make any sense. I’m not sure I like fare tiers like this, but if you’re going to have them, this kind of notice is the way to go. Let people know clearly and early, what they’re buying and not buying.

  16. dotti cahill says:

    it is nuts and nickel and dimes people to death,,, not nice to many fair classes

    • frequentflier says:

      the nickel and diming has come from all the years that people complained about high fares and bad food, so the airlines cut back on food and reduced fares, every one wanted the cost of a bus fare but wanted limo services. Can’t happen. People book months in advance for the cheaper fares but want the flexibility to change two days before flying without penalty???? It is the same thing that always makes me laugh, that the business men all hanging around the check in counter clamoring for the “upgrade” then getting pissed at the carrier when everyone checks in…if you want to sit up front, buy up front…..duh?

  17. imearyutes says:

    — GJS

    Sent from Mailbox for iPad

  18. janecgross says:

    I just completed an economy ticket round trip on Delta from Minneapolis to Indianapolis. I was a bit worried about whether I would have to be in the airport to check in and get my seat. I was able to check in on-line and get my seat just as I usually do. I carried my rolling suitcase and a carry-on onto the plane on the first leg of the trip; on the return I was invited to check my suitcase at the gate and only had to deal with my smaller carry-on. Frankly, nothing was a problem or different from my other trips, plus I didn’t pay for extras I didn’t want!

  19. leocha says:

    Thanks for the shout out for Travelers United. I hope you don’t honestly feel that transparency in pricing is unhelpful and that unrestricted publication of airfares and ancillary fees, which allow consumers to compare prices across airlines and allow the free market to work, is unrealistic. That is what at Travelers United have been advocating over the past five years. Price transparency is coming in spite of the airlines’ battles against such disclosure. Manipulative transparency as noted in this Delta kerfuffle is not any kind of substitute for or path to real price transparency.
    Charlie Leocha, Travelers United

    • Nick Barnard says:

      Last I checked many of the airlines wouldn’t quite mind being transparent with their fees.. The real problem is the GDSes. They don’t want to join the current state of the industry.

  20. Fank of America says:

    Its capitalism folks – we get the system we vote for and deserve. Is it crazy and confusing and complicated? Yes. Is it fair? Not really capitalism really means caveat emptor and the free market allows sellers to price their product pretty much anyway they see fit. Airlines were treated as public utilities until we deregulated the market in the late 70s and Jimmy Carter (that sneaky socialist) favored and signed the bill. And 30 odd years later this is what we get. If we want transparency and ease of use/understanding of the product and how its priced there most likely will have to be some re-regulation to some degree or other.

    Who is up for that? Anyone?

  21. frequentflier says:

    The price really dies not matter to the frequentflier…if you like UAL out of Newark, you will fly UAL no matter that the fares are. If you want dirt cheap Southworst cattle drive or the Spirit shoe horn is the way most people will go, and drive two hours to remote airfield for it. I now prefer the closest airport and a carrier like jetBlue where I get a TV. I find even the 2 hours flight more boring when I don’t have TV and I will pay a bit more for that. All the people who complain are the once a year go visit grandma for the weekend fliers or the snow birds who don’t understand that fares to FLA in January are going to be high.

  22. I agree that these complaints do not make any sense. I didn’t even know that Delta did this, but (like you said) it is a good start. If they provided a link to a chart that showed differences for each class by benefits received or not, it could be an improvement. But, something is better than nothing. I usually take the time to examine differences, but not everyone does.

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