American Airlines announced some new in-flight options this week, which is news that should interest the budget-conscious traveler. The changes were framed as being good—but upon unpacking, it’s clear the airline has a low bar for “perks.”
American announced it will no longer charge for in-flight texting, which currently costs $5. Passengers will be able to text on Wi-Fi enabled planes without paying for internet. Not the most thrilling news, but an improvement.
The airline also announced it will provide dedicated overhead bin space and free drinks for travelers flying on higher-fare Main Cabin Extra tickets. It’s unclear why an airline would revoke those privileges from a higher-priced ticket in the first place, but the airline says the new perks will not increase the cost of these fares. The Main Cabin Extra additions will launch in the first half of 2018.
These changes come as American adds planes and upgrades its fleet with Wi-Fi and other options customers expect. While announcing the additions, American CEO Doug Parker made a bold statement to investors: “I don’t think we’re ever going to lose money again.” That’s an interesting thing for a CEO to say in such a notoriously up-and-down industry considering oil prices alone can turn an airline’s bottom line from black to red. Not to mention storms, strikes, and terror attacks.
So why open the door to “I told you so”? It seems all those fees and paid perks added up. In just ten years, airlines like American have completely changed the way people pay for air travel. In fact, American spearheaded the idea when it launched the first domestic checked-bag fees back in 2008. That combined with new budget-seating tiers—which American says are selling well—formed a bulwark against the disruptions airlines normally endure. So, American is feeling confident.
If it wasn’t already clear, this is the new normal. While some might decry the degradation of service, the approach is working for airlines, and for a large enough subset of travelers. The irony, though, is that after stripping air travel down to its bare bones, airlines like American are now slowly re-introducing perks to keep customers. Tech and comfort seem to be the things people care about most—the ability to text your friends for free, for example.
Even if it’s to complain about overpriced in-flight sandwiches.