I wasn't surprised to read that the airline industry was rated the worst in customer ratings. It seems like every week there's a news story about one of the major airlines raising their fees or adding another miscellaneous cost on top of their base ticket prices. I'm slightly sympathetic to the fact that the airlines are dealing with ever-increasing oil expenses, but not all airlines are dealing with their struggles in the same way.
I was pretty outraged when American, United, and US Airlines announced plans to charge an extra $15 per checked bag. This is already on top of the $25 for a second checked bag that they (and in fairness most other airlines) already charge. Why couldn't they simply add $15 to the price of their tickets? Because they can't compete on price with low cost carriers like Southwest and are feeling the squeeze from both sides.
Now more and more travelers will abandon checking luggage and cram all number of accessories into smaller carry-on bags, thereby causing long lines through security and long boarding times while they struggle to shove their bags overhead with little assistance. This will ultimately lead to delays and more misery.
The bottom line is that for flying, people mainly care about cost and if you've flown on Southwest, American, United or Virgin America there's not a great deal of difference in service — so why pay more? If anything, I enjoy flying on Southwest and Virgin America more because the employees tend to be friendlier and the personal entertainment on longer flights breaks up the time.
Until airlines like American can prove that their higher prices reflect a better and more enjoyable service I'll keep picking the lowest price I can find. I don't mind sucking it up even if I end up in a middle seat between two big burly guys with no elbow room. We've all been there.
Instead of these airline companies being creative with accounting, they need to get creative with designing better experiences like Alaska Airlines is doing or consider re-engineering planes to fly with alternative fuels like Virgin highlighted recently when they used 5% biofuel. I might pay $15 more if I think it's worth it but I definitely won't pay an extra $15 to have a more miserable experience when I know I can pay less elsewhere.
With any luck, one of the travel sites will be updated so that I can search flights and compare the full cost for my travel knowing that I'll be gone for two weeks and will definitely be checking one bag if not two. Then the larger airlines will maybe take note and change their travel plans.