More airlines using the 'a la carte' pricing structure

Flying to my mom-in-law's for Christmas, I was able to get a whole can of Coke when the flight attendants rolled the beverage cart my way. Flying back after New Year's, I was only able to get a cup -- and ice cubes took up most of the space. And to me, that sums up the direction airline service in 2009: a downward spiral.

You'd think gas prices going downward would mean fuel surcharges decline too. Think again.

And now more airlines are planning to go down the '"menu pricing" route for everything related to flying on their planes.

It's common on Europe's low-cost airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet to tack on fees for everything from beverages to priority boarding, but Frontier Airlines announced in December it would be the first in the U.S. to use an 'a la carte' fare structure -- the more you pay, the more services you get. In its AirFares program, passengers can choose from three different pricing levels: Classic Plus, Classic and Economy. If I bought a Classic Plus ticket from San Francisco to New York for $580, I get a fully-refundable ticket, priority boarding, advanced seat assignments, two free checked bags, free DirectTV, a 150-percent frequent-flier mileage credit, a snack and a premium beverage. The Classic ticket for $470 would get me the seat assignments, free bag checks, DirectTV, a 125-percent mileage credit and ticket-change fees would be $50 instead of $100. If I went Classic for $420, all I get is my seat, mileage earnings and a watery cup of Coke. I'd have to pay $110 for ticket changes, $15 for the first checked bag, $25 for the second, and $3 per snack. (Thanks, Budget Travel magazine.)

I wouldn't mind so much because I could stretch my legs and find lunch during the layover in Denver, but it's sad to see more airlines are planning to go this route. Air Canada was the first to do menu-pricing route and not only has it made them more money, it has proven to be popular among passengers, or so it says. American Airlines intends to go a la carte this year. There's something to be said about price transparency and deciding whether seat assignments and free snacks are worth the extra price. But I still remember the days when flying was fun, a blanket in the overhead bin was guaranteed, real silverware was on the dinner tray, even though the food was crap, and everyone in coach got the same experience. Now, if I sit next to the guy watching the DirecTV, I'll feel like more of a third-class citizen just because I don't find it worth the extra $50, my cable bill for a month at home. I think I speak for most passengers when I say I'm sick of being nickel-and-dimed by the airlines. They can keep the snacks and the blankets, but will it really hit their bottom line if I watch a couple of hours of free TV on the plane?
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