Chilly? For $7, US Airways Will Sell You a Blanket

US Airways has been consistently outspoken in its enthusiasm for a-la-carte pricing, proclaiming that the practice is both fair to consumers and profitable for the airline.

So it came as no surprise when US Airways introduced its new Power-Nap Sack Pillow and Blanket Kit. From the airline's news release: "Starting February 16, 2009, customers will be able to purchase the take-home travel kits onboard domestic US Airways flights (excluding US Airways Express and trans-Atlantic flights) for $7. Similar kits retail for approximately $20."

What US Airways is referring to as a "travel kit" comprises a "cozy 34 x 60-inch fleece blanket, a soft-to-the-touch inflatable neck pillow, eye shades and foam ear plugs neatly packaged inside a reusable, navy blue fleece drawstring bag embroidered with the US Airways logo."

Bottom line: If US Airways passengers want a blanket, they'll have to pay for it.

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There's always the initial shock and outrage, when previously complimentary services are converted to revenue-generators. But travelers have become largely inured to such tactics over the past year, as the airlines have engaged in a collective fee-for-all. And JetBlue began charging for blankets and pillows in August, so the precedent for this particular extra charge was already set.

Aside from questions of fairness and decency, there's a decidedly wasteful aspect to this. No matter how reasonable the cost, how "cozy" the blanket, the items are effectively throw-aways. I predict that in the great majority of cases, the purchased goods will never be used a second time. In an increasingly ecology-conscious era, that seems unseemly at best. Renting blankets on a per-flight basis, and using a portion of the rental revenue to keep them clean—recycling, in other words—would be a more enlightened approach. And the service could be priced to be both affordable for the flyer and profitable for the airline.

But perhaps the most insidious consideration of all is the customer-unfriendly incentive the new policy establishes.

Flyers need blankets because the cabin temperature is kept uncomfortably low while in flight. That's because it costs more to heat the cabin. So the airlines already have a financial incentive to keep temperatures chilly. And selling blankets creates yet another reason to subject passengers to a dose of bone-chilling air conditioning.

Paranoia? Perhaps. But I suspect I'm not the only one who can imagine the captain or chief purser chuckling to himself as he turns down the aircraft's thermostat, mentally calculating how many additional blankets will be sold on the flight.

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