Airlines may have lost their sense of irony. Passengers may soon lose their sense of tolerance.

By Chris Matyszczyk

November 10, 2019

No matter what they might sometimes say in public, airlines are doing quite well.

Demand for air travel is strong. Tolerance of air travel is stable.

Indeed, one of the more successful airline stories of late has been the airline formerly known as Complete Intolerance Airlines: United.

It’s performed something akin to an emotional resurgence. Its share price is rising, thanks to an improved earnings forecast.

This doesn’t mean, however, that United has suddenly wrapped itself in glorious generosity.

Let us, then, take an excursion to Guam.

There, United is fighting a proposal that would increase Guam airport fees from $9 million a year to $15 million.

United isn’t happy about this.

As my sadly irregular reading of the Guam Daily Post tells me, the airline emitted this statement: 

Any proposals to increase costs of air travel will reduce demand and ultimately have a negative effect on travel, trade, commerce, and tourism. Rather than increasing fees, we encourage Guam agencies to work with the industry on finding other solutions than a tax on travel.

I read this several times, wondering why strange noises were occurring in my head.

My eyebrows and nasal tract seemed to be palpitating at alarming levels.

Then I realized. It was the shock of learning that United Airlines is actually against fees.

Indeed, United is insisting that any fee increase that affects air travel will lead to a diminution in passenger numbers.

So how is it, I hear you mutter with me, that United has merrily levied more and more fees on passengers in recent years?

There’s the much-loved baggage fee, the pay-for-an-overhead-bin fee, the you-want-to-change-your-flight-give-us-200-bucks fee, and the delightful oh-you-want-an-aisle-seat-that’ll-cost-you fee.

This is the airline whose president, Scott Kirby, insisted that getting on a plane is like going to a concert.

Every seat, he said, should have its own price. If families want to sit together, they should pay for the privilege. Pay a fee, that is.

Kirby subsequently confessed that the concert analogy may not have been the finest.

But airlines like United have embraced the onerous fee-ling with cynical gusto.

The mentality has been clear for some time. Airlines want to find a way to get passengers to pay for everything they used to think was free. So they charge a fee.

Sadly, in a U.S. market where four airlines own more than 80 percent of all the seats, passengers often feel they have little choice but to pay.

Especially when most airlines coincidentally charge precisely the same fees. (Southwest, alone, attempts to resist change fees and baggage fees.)

Passengers feel they’re a captive audience, desperate to get from one place to another. So they tolerate the ever-advancing fees and grumble mightily.

Somehow, these fees don’t seem to have affected United’s business. Other than increasing its profits, that is.

Yet here is Guam trying to raise a fee and United bleating that there’ll be a negative effect on travel.

Don’t you feel sorry for the airline?