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American's reputation nosedives as fees rise

Time will tell whether American's new fee for checking a single bag generates the additional revenue the world's largest airline is projecting.

What we know already is that American's move has generated a torrent of publicity, much of it negative.

US News columnist Liz Wolgemuth, for example, cites the new policy as an example of airline mismanagement and asks, "So what's your solution for American Airlines? Seriously." It's indicative of the low esteem the public has for the airlines in general, and American in particular, that the question arises at all, suggesting as it does that the problems confounding legions of competent, highly paid industry executives can be easily solved.

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The Onion takes a more explicitly sarcastic approach, using American's new fee to tee up the following question: "What new revenue streams are the other airlines implementing?"

The Onion's answer:

  • United—$25 seatbelt rental fee for passengers who didn't bring their own
  • Midwest—$35 to sit in the passenger compartment
  • JetBlue—New fee structure for wait times on runway: $150 for under 2 hours, $75 for under 4 hours, etc.
  • Frontier Airlines—$20 penalty if passenger is not wearing coonskin cap
  • Continental—$100 reduced-fare tickets for standing-room-only passengers
  • Southwest—Ten bucks to touch the captain
  • Virgin—$30 fee for booking a flight with another carrier
  • Delta—$50 to chip in for gas

On a similarly sarcastic note, Business Week's David Kiley recommends that American's P.R. agency counsel its client as follows:

"Instead of instituting a fee for checked bags, which will be a lightning rod of bad publicity, please consider burying the cost of rising fuel in across-the-board ticket price increases. Consumers understand that many consumer prices are rising because of increasing fuel costs. What they don't like, or understand, is when companies begin charging for items they have previously gotten for free—a single checked bag, a soda, a bag of chips, a Wi-Fi connection, etc. The best solution to this problem is to stay out of the news, not to lean into it and ask for a pie in the face."

And it's not just the media who have taken American to task. In the reader comments section of Kiley's column, Tom Richardson expresses a widely held sentiment: "American Airlines has zero credibility with the public right now. While the current price of fuel clearly affects how they operate, this is nothing but a way to gouge their customers. Should the price of oil drop and American becomes profitable again, I doubt they'll remove the checked bag fee."

American asked for a pie in the face. And they got one.

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