Defending an Airline Fee?

A week or so ago, I read a blurb about American Airlines raising the fee for standby passengers to $50.  My first reaction was the usual one we all have when we read these things.  How long until they charge you to use the lavatory? The last few years airlines seem to be in a cold war style arms race to see who can accumulate the most impressive armament of extra costs. I like American Airlines a lot as airlines go, and even recently penned a post professing my love.  When I saw this news, I was not pleased.  As a frequent flyer, I do standby quite a bit.  After a long few days on the road, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of stealing back half a day of me time by grabbing an earlier flight.  Fifty Dollars is never going to be approved on an expense sheet (nor should it) and can get expensive quickly.  Great…

I read the fine print on the new fee.  As an elite member, I am exempt from the rule.  Happy standby times are still here!  I do however, still care about my fellow traveler.   Just because I have been lucky enough to get one of those special cards, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still be outraged.  I started to do more digging.  Here’s the text from the new rule.

For tickets purchased February 22, 2010, or later, the standby policy will change for American Airlines, American Eagle and AmericanConnection® for travel within and between the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean or Canada. Only premium customers will retain the ability to standby for earlier or later same-day flights. Any customers who want to secure a Confirmed Flight Change, regardless of their elite status, will have an option to pay $50 to guarantee a seat on an earlier or later same-day flight when available.

Here are some examples of travelers who have the option to standby at no charge:

  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum®, AAdvantage Platinum® and AAdvantage Gold®, as well as oneworld® Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby members
  • Those who purchase tickets in First and Business Class as well as those who purchase unrestricted Economy Class fares (Y, B, H class of service)
  • Active U.S. Military personnel traveling on orders or personal travel and active U.S. Military dependents traveling on orders

You can get a confirmed seat for same-day flight changes for domestic travel† on all fares for a $50 charge*. Passengers can call Reservations or handle the transaction at the airport ticket counter or Self-Service Check-In machines. The alternate flights must be for your same itinerary and your flight change can only be confirmed within 12 hours of departure of the desired flight. This option is subject to availability of eligible seats. Also, American continues to offer the same-day option of standing by for an earlier or later domestic flight for select customers at no charge.

I now understand what the rules are, but I didn’t understand why.  It seems pretty easy to allow someone to grab an already empty seat on an earlier flight.  It’s going out empty, why not let somebody use the seat?  I started to dig around on some airline passenger related forums.  I found the usual stream of airline X sucks messages about the change.  I also read some posts  that convinced me that this one is probably legit.  There’s a whole game around standing by that I never even knew existed.

  • AA is one of the final hold-outs to instituting this rule.  Some carriers are more expensive.
  • Here’s the play.  I want to fly out at 8:00 AM, but the flight cost is $679.
  • The flight leaving at 7:00 PM (13 hours later) is only $329.
  • I buy the cheaper flight with no intention of  ever using that ticket.  I am willing to roll the dice to save the cost of the premium ticket.
  • They are both just seats, who cares?  No harm done to the airline.
  • Not true.  The ticket isn’t put back into inventory until the day of travel.
  • No time to package with a Travelocity or Expedia.
  • No time for trip planning, just a last minute empty seat.
  • Good luck selling that one today.

It makes sense to cut out the practice.  You put up with it for frequent customers and full-fare types.  For once, this is a fee I can see.

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