Actually, if charging for meals *hadn't* been as successful as it has been, the US network carriers wouldn't have continued to roll it out to more and more routes. They'd simply be offering no meals or far more modest meals than what they sell. I've been very surprised by how many of my fellow passengers on Song have been willing to shell out $7-10 for a meal (even on a flight leaving at 8:30 PM
!) -- but it also seems to me that what Song sells onboard offers value comparable to what you'd see at the airport. Delta's decision to roll out food sales on some of its mainline fleet was directly influenced by the success of food sales on Song.
If you say, "yes, I'd gladly pay $10 more per ticket to get a hot meal" -- well, that's basically what the onboard food sales are all about. You're still paying the same amount of money, and your fellow passengers who didn't really want that meal *don't* have to pay the extra money. Or are you angry that they're not subsidizing the cost of the onboard service you want? There are times (especially early AM
flights) when I'd rather just sleep, and that meal you covet interests me not at all.
The history of the industry in the U.S. since deregulation has shown that for a large number of passengers, the three most important reasons for choosing one airline over another are price, price, and price. Some are willing to pay a *modest* premium for a non-stop flight or preferred time/airport or even what they perceive to be better onboard service, but the size of that premium is small *unless* someone else is paying the bill.
Post-9/11 and in the current industry depression, yields have been decimated because far fewer travelers have been willing to pay high "business" fares for "better" service. Travel budgets at many corporations have been extremely tight (if non-essential travel wasn't frozen completely). Even with broad industry cutbacks, yields are down. A greater percentage of travel is discretionary, and discretionary travel is price-driven. The rise of easy comparison shopping on the internet (Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, CheapTickets, etc.), along with the perception (not entirely unjustified) that all the airlines are the same and the fact that air travel is, at is base level, transportation
, has made price competition even more intense.
Do not forget that the $10 each way per ticket which you are willing to shell out turns into $80 round-trip for a family of four going to visit family or Mickey. While that may seem like chump change to some of you, that's a lot of money to people who already have to scrimp and save to make ends meet.
Paying for things on airplanes today, with the new technologies out there, is *NOT* a hassle. Song takes credit cards -- the flight attendant just tallies it up on a handheld computer, swipes the card, and hands you a receipt. And on a long flight, you're just sitting there anyway, so what's the big hurry?
Some people (not all) *do* expect the moon for their $99 transcon fare. This is partially the fault of the network carriers for inflating their expectations. To be honest, my expectations are to be transported safely to and from my destination in a reasonably timely manner, to not be treated rudely, and to not be lied to. I don't expect sleeper seats, PTV's, gourmet meals, free booze (though I do believe that airlines egregiously overcharge for alcohol as compared to your local bar), hot towels, etc. I also expect to pay a reasonable fare, and I don't think that $300 for a one-hour flight is "reasonable."
Fares today, on an inflation-adjusted basis, are far, far, far lower than they were 25 years ago (before deregulation). This is indisputable and supported by DOT statistics. Between Boston and Houston (which I travel frequently), $350 r/t (with significant advance purchase, non-refundable, penalties for changes, etc.) was an incredibly good deal 15 years ago. I remember being astounded at finding a $129 one-way fare on "financially-troubled" TWA in 1992. Today, $250 r/t is the *regular* deeply discounted advance purchase fare -- and I paid $98 (before taxes) round-trip between BOS
a number of times last year. I almost felt guilty aside from the facts that (1) the airline willingly sold me those seats and (2) there were empty seats on all the flights save one, which meant the airlines wouldn't have had the revenue otherwise.
And food service wasn't all that in the past, either. I can remember airline meals as a child which were so horrible as to be entirely inedible. One offering on United became the butt of a family joke -- "Turkey Surprise." I was surprised I didn't vomit after the first bite.