New costs pop up at airport

By Leslie Miller THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON – Ask for a pillow and blanket to help get through a long flight and you may be out of luck. Or you may be able to buy a “comfort package” from Air Canada for $2.

Like to check your luggage curbside? That could cost up to $3 a bag.

Airlines are starting to charge for many services that once were free – such as assigned seating, paper tickets and blankets.

Air travelers who don’t fly often may be in for some unpleasant surprises when they reach the airport this summer.

“They’re going to be confused and they’re going to be somewhat upset,” said Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travelers Coalition. “Is it going to stop them from flying? No.”

Intense competition from low-fare airlines along with high jet-fuel prices have led many established carriers to cut back or charge passengers for amenities.

Many airlines no longer serve meals on flights, instead charging for snack boxes and sandwiches.

Sharon Ansara, a government supervisor from El Paso, Texas, flew an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Washington yesterday morning.

“We didn’t even get peanuts,” she said after the 2-1/2 hour flight. “They offered us a snack pack for $4. It stinks.”

American spokesman Tim Wagner said that passengers have made it clear that their first priority in buying an airline ticket is price. The company offers a la carte services – such as snack packs – for those willing to pay for them.

Air Canada, which recently emerged from bankruptcy, decided against eliminating pillows and blankets, as some airlines have done. Instead, the airline decided to give passengers the choice of buying an inflatable pillow and a light fleece blanket for $2, according to spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur.

There are limits to what passengers will pay for.

American Eagle, which flies commuter flights for American, experimented in January with charging passengers for soft drinks.

“They evaluated customer response,” Wagner said. “The customer response was, ‘No, we don’t want to pay $1 for a soft drink.'”