EDITORIAL: Airline industry complaints laughable


July 16--A round-trip airline ticket from Sioux Falls to Denver -- leaving two weeks from today and arriving home two weeks from Monday -- costs anywhere from $369 to $732, according to a search on a travel website.

In addition to that high cost, travelers very well could be subjected to a variety of hidden fees and other costs. Evidently, you'll find out when you board the plane if your bags will cost extra, or if your snack -- even the pillow you're offered -- will be gratis.

Those hidden fees result in massive income to airlines. As much as $5.1 billion last year alone. Too, those fees make it nearly impossible for the average traveler to figure out which airline is truly offering the best deal.

Wednesday in Washington, D.C., a hearing was held on airline prices. One official from the Government Accountability Office told the congressmen at the hearing that airline fees "are not very transparent." An airline representative responded by saying the industry "should be able to charge whatever it opts to charge for services."

So let's get this straight. On top of the $369 fee to go to Denver from Sioux Falls, travelers may pay another $25 or more to check a bag, $10 or more for legroom, $2-$5 for basic snacks and even more money for in-flight entertainment?

In addition, travelers on airlines sometimes are subjected to famously poor service.

In 2009, for instance, 150 passengers on a Sun Country Airlines jet were kept in the plane for nearly six hours awaiting takeoff. That incident prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to rule that airlines face fines of up to $27,500 per passenger if carriers do not let customers get off an idle plane after a three-hour wait.

Also last year, pilots on a Northwest Airlines jet missed the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport by 150 miles before realizing the mistake. The pilots were accused of falling asleep, but insisted their attention was diverted by discussions about crew scheduling, as if that excuse should make passengers feel better.

And in recent months, National Transportation Safety Board studies have shown that in six crashes since 2004, rules about cockpit chit-chat were broken just prior to the accident. Sometimes, pilots are even cracking jokes in the critical moments leading up to crashes.

Let us reiterate: The price of an airline ticket continues to rise. Airlines sometimes keep passengers stuck in the planes for hours without taking off. Pilots sometimes are diverting their attention to activities other than the safe flight of the plane. There is a general lack of courtesy among big-company airport staff -- at least in big cities.

In the meantime, airlines are quietly inserting money into their pockets -- up to $5 billion or more -- through fees that are anything but transparent. Those fees make it difficult for the average consumer to truly find the best deal.

And then the airline industry complains when a government agency questions them about it?

Really, it's laughable.