ITSA Warns Travelers Will Pay for Airline Unbundling

How many times have you gotten to the airport with two car seats, diaper bags, a stroller, two hungry kids and of course your luggage, and realized after checking in, that your two year old is sitting three rows in front of you, you'r next to the bathroom and your four year old is at the front of the plane?

Unfortunately, that situation is becoming increasingly familiar to families who are flying, asserts Robin Reck, director of communications for the Interactive Travel Services Association (ITSA) in his analysis of the effects of the lack of transparency in airline pricing. 

"Whatever happened to the days of pre-boarding and getting settled before anyone else got on the plane, asking a kind flight attendant to warm your child's bottle, or even ensuring a family could sit together by asking strangers to swap seats?" Reck asks.

"Welcome to reality. Those days are long gone. With rising fuel costs, airlines are unbundling everything and anything, and guaranteeing virtually nothing for  consumers. Paying for premium seats, like an aisle or a window, seems to be the norm. Unless a family wants to shell out an additional couple of hundred dollars, there is no guarantee they will be seated together." 

"Adding to the increasingly hostile airport experience, passengers are starting to treat each other more poorly. According to a survey from Forrester Research 2012 Omnibus Online Travel Survey, new policies are forcing more and more passengers to pay an additional fee to secure a preferred seat assignment."

Reck notes that airline customers are competing for overhead storage space like it was beachfront property. "Only 35 percent of passengers feel that travelers are courteous to each other, and 64 percent of those surveyed said they would not be willing to trade seats once on board to allow a separated family to sit together."

"For a family, it's becoming ridiculous. Although a harried mom might get a little excited at the prospect of having a child-free flight, the reality is that in order for her to actually care for her children on a flight, she'll have to pay up."

"The culprit is an increasing propensity on the part of airlines to thwart regular customers - those of us that are not elite business travelers - from booking their seats in advance. Families looking for peace of mind find it difficult to pre-book all of their seats together.  Recent studies have shown limited seats, often just the middle seat, are the only seats available unless you're an elite status flier," Reck says. 

Some airlines' policies have disadvantaged online travel agencies like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and Priceline, and have complicated the process for consumers, Reck says. "Most airlines don't allow these sites to electronically show customers all the add-ons they can purchase. Instead, a family can buy their plane tickets on Expedia's website, but then has to go to the specific airline's website to buy seats and pay for checked bags and other ancillary services." 

"The only remedy for this onerous and confusing multiple click-through is for the U.S. Department of Transportation to require airlines to be more transparent, distribute their ancillary fee information to anyone they have partnerships with, and enable those partnerships to sell the add-ons so that families can be aware of and book all of their flight services together.  Still, it's going to be a long summer travel season," Reck concludes.