Column Date 2007-07-20

Flying la carte

Flying used to be easy to understand:

You bought your ticket, checked your bag, sat down in your seat, had drinks and a meal, and got off at your destination. All for one inclusive price. Simple, huh?

Those simple days are gone, at least according to Skybus, a new “á la carte” airline based in Columbus, Ohio.

Skybus starts by selling you a low-priced ticket. In December, for example, I can fly Skybus between Columbus and San Diego for $75 each way. Pretty good, huh?

Well, not so fast. You’re flying “á la carte” now, and you can’t take anything for granted.

You’d like a reserved seat? Well, that’s available -- for $10 each way, or $20 round trip.

Checking your baggage? Add $5 for each bag you check (two bag limit, plus an extra fee if your bag weighs more than 50 pounds). If you check a third bag, that’s another $50, thank you.

Of course, you’re still allowed one carry-on – provided it’s no larger than 9” by 16” by 19”. Which means that the standard 22” airline carry-on isn’t considered carry-on by Skybus.

But that’s just the start of your stress.

Here are some “Skybus Rules of Flying,” according to the airline:

Their first rule is: Don't be late. We won't wait.

They insist that you arrive no later than 30 minutes before takeoff,  or they’ll leave without you! Honest – that’s what they say.

Another rule is to entertain yourself – bring along a book or an iPod. Why? Well, as their website says: “We’re not big fans of fancy in-flight entertainment systems.”

And if you want to talk to a real person about your reservation, forget it. Skybus has no phone number. As they put it: “...those phone banks are so expensive.”

If the cabin is too cold for you, Skybus will be happy to sell you a blanket and a pillow. (You get to keep them, of course, which adds to your baggage weight on your return trip.)

Then there’s the matter of eating and drinking.

Think you’ll save money by bringing your lunch along? Sorry – they don’t allow you to bring food or drink on board. You have to buy everything from Skybus. (A simple lunch will cost you $10 for a sandwich and $5 for a beer. They also sell water if you get thirsty.)

Unfortunately, I suspect this is just the start.

The next step is for airlines to charge extra for a clean seat, to rent a space in the overhead luggage compartment, and maybe even for a more experienced pilot. (“For just a few extra dollars, book a seat on our evening flight, captained by a U.S. Air Force Veteran with 25 years flying experience!”)

If my local steakhouse was an airline like this, the headwaiter might say:

“The filet is $40, sir. Would you like it cooked?”

“Why, of course.”

“Well, the cooking charge is $10 for rare or medium, but if you’d prefer your steak well-done, there’s a 5% fuel surcharge.”

All in all, I think I’ll live my life “prix fixe” instead of  “á la carte.”

©2007 Peter Tannen