Junk Fees and People of Color
Not everything is racially-motivated but most things have a disparate impact.
YahooNews/Travel Noire* (“Racist Airlines? President Joe Biden Says Charging For Extra Legroom Seats ‘Hits People Of Color The Most’“):
Is charging for extra legroom on planes correct? According to US President Joe Biden, this procedure is wrong and racist. In a recent announcement, Biden said airlines forcing air passengers to pay for extra legroom is racist because it hits ‘marginalized Americans and people of color the most.”
Biden’s remarks were made one month after he announced the release of a new proposed law that would require airlines to disclose hidden fees before a customer purchases a ticket.
The regulation will let passengers know all the exact costs in advance and thus can choose the best deal. The department is still working on forcing airlines into giving refunds for services like onboard WiFi that do not work.
“The Department of Transportation is working on rules that would require airlines and travel sites to disclose fees up front, fees like things if you want to sit next to your young child. Well, guess what? Or check your baggage or change your ticket. You’re going to be surprised. They’re going to charge you for that without telling you. Your ticket is going to cost a heck of a lot more. I’m not saying they can’t charge it, but they got to let you know they’re going to charge it. You can make a decision”, Biden revealed that DOT is working on the main points of these new regulations.
“Some airlines, if you want six more inches between you and the seat in front, you pay more money. But you don’t know it until you purchase your ticket. Look, folks, these are junk fees. They’re unfair, and they hit marginalized Americans the hardest, especially low-income folks and people of color. They benefit big corporations, not consumers, not working families. And that changes now”, he added.
Curious as to whether this was taken out of context, I went to the White House website and, after scrolling through six pages of press room briefings, I finally found his October 26 “Remarks by President Biden on Protecting American Consumers from Junk Fees.” Not only was this not taken out of context but it wasn’t a typical Biden stumble; it’s right there in the prepared remarks:
Look, folks, these are junk fees. They’re unfair, and they hit marginalized Americans the hardest, especially low-income folks and people of color. They benefit big corporations, not consumers, not working families. And that changes now.
Nothing else in the speech is about “marginalized Americans” or “people of color.”
Aside from pandering to the base, though, it makes sense. If someone making a six-figure income gets hit with a surprise $25 fee they weren’t expecting, it’s annoying but likely not all that impactful. They’re not going to cancel their dinner plans, much less be unable to keep the lights on, because of the unexpected surcharge.
It’s possible that, on average, people of color need more legroom than white people. More likely, though, it’s just an acknowledgment that Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be low-income. It’s certainly not an accusation that the airlines are “racist.”
The good news is that this weird story brought attention to an initiative of which I was unaware. Whether existing legislation gives the President or the FAA authority to regulate these fees, I don’t know. But requiring up-front disclosure that expected amenities like the ability to carry a bag onto to plane will carry a fee so that comparison shopping can be done transparently seems like a no-brainer.
*I had never previously heard of the site. But, no, it doesn’t appear to be some right-wing outlet. They bill themselves as “a digital media company serving millennials of the African Diaspora” and are part of a larger brand called Blavity whose stated mission is to “economically and creatively support Black millennials across the African scape, so they can pursue the work they love, and change the world in the process.”
Every time I hear something like, ‘this will hit people of color hardest,’ I want to punch a wall. That translates to the 60% of the country that’s White as, ‘not our problem.’ It happened with Covid. It happens with education. It is bad messaging.
The same larger point can be made using class rather than color. These rules hit working class people the hardest. That’s unifying, it puts almost everyone in the same boat, it means the offended group consists of a much larger number of voters. It means 90% of passengers sharing common enemies: the airlines and the douchebags – like me – sitting smug in the front of the plane.
@Michael Reynolds: You’re overlooking the fact that ‘working class’ is short-hand for ‘white working class’ in America. That’s why media can say that Trump and/or Republicans won the support of the working class, etc. etc. The messaging isn’t quite so neat and simple as you imply.
Junk fees are regressive, just like taxes. They will hit anyone low-income harder.
I am all for disclosure of fees. I am a bit mystified by the claim that this isn’t disclosed, however. When I’ve purchased tickets online, the price of each seat is very clearly marked (usually a schematic of the plane with the price on each seat). When I’ve spoken to agents because I had to switch flights, they warn me even before we start looking for a change that there might be a charge.
Am I getting more-helpful-than-average agents/a different website? Or are people not paying attention to information they don’t want to hear?
A few years ago Southwest Airlines used to list their fares without the airport taxes and other fees, and rules were put in place to require everyone to include that in the fare advertised.
That prompted Southwest to differentiate on free checked baggage, rather than “fare” – a more difficult prospect.
I’m not sure how you build a rate structure that includes “typical” fees, because my behavior changes depending on the fees and where they are charged. If I must check bags, I’ll give Southwest a chance because they are automatically $50-70 cheaper round trip based just on that.
Hell, some people even fly Frontier or Spirit because they can control the extra fees by wearing three layers of clothing or something.
In a way, having add-on fees helps financially disadvantaged folks because they can research what add-ons are truly valuable to them, and not pay the rest – but they can only do so when properly disclosed. But like @Jen, I’ve never had a problem understanding just what those fees are.
@Michael Reynolds: Re “not our problem”
One of the biggest hurdles this country has in front of us is to start thinking about our fellow citizens in a less competitive and more embracing way. If we are not unified, it’s easy for our enemies to divide and conquer.
If my brother down the street has a problem, then my community has a problem – and by extension, I have a problem.
I don’t know how we get there.
@Michael Reynolds: @Jon: And additionally, you’re saying that po’ cracker here isn’t any better than a n[expetive, deleted] or a we[racial epithet, deleted]. I know we’d like to believe that there’s language to unite the po’ of various ethnic extractions, but this cracker hasn’t seen any evidence of it so far. Remember the adage from Davis X. Machina over at Balloon Juice about not having a box to live in. When I use that one, I add a curtain rod and a fish as important missing elements, too. 🙁
@Tony W: I’ve long believed in the theory that the way the US “grew up” has a lot to do with our current problems. Europeans had not much room to spread out–that and waves of war and pestilence meant they had to rely on one another. Thus, a more communal approach to basically everything. The US is so big, if you weren’t getting along with your community, you could pick up and leave, set off on your own.
Centuries of “I’m the boss of me”/”rugged individualism” seems to have fostered (or festered?) a spirit that has evolved from independent to selfish.
@Tony W: We don’t. At our core, we’re all disciples of Ayn Rand (and/or John Calvin), on these issues. When
my brothersome rando down the street has a problem, it sucks to be him. Additionally, some of us thank God that he has blessed us by not giving us the problems that sinners have.
James, the context is that Biden is talking about junk fees in general, which include bank fees, which almost certainly hit people of color harder. Even with the limited quotes you’ve provided, that’s obvious, unless you’re looking for a way to discredit what he’s saying. It’s what Jen says: Regressive fees hit people of color harder.
In the first scan for prices, those prices are shorn of the “If you would like to sit with your family, you will have to pay” penalties. Then they pile on the penalties.
More generally, flying needs to be reregulated to eliminate the misery the airlines are willing to inflict on us. Maybe banking too. Those are the obvious junk fee industries. This is a small step in that direction.
Human beings have never, and will never, respond as readily to kumbaya as to me and mine. Self-interest will always outweigh fellow feeling.
The thing the Left has a problem grasping is that it’s not enough to be right, you also have to be smart in order to achieve a goal. And achieving the goal is the point. Right?
I live in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, a somewhat mixed area in the sense that some smaller homes only cost a million dollars. Within half a mile of my house are numerous homeless encampments. Most of us in SL have more bedrooms than we need. How many of us – virtually all good liberals – offer a spare bedroom to a homeless person? None. And how many of us would scream bloody murder if the city proposed opening a low income apartment building let alone a shelter in the neighborhood?
It is a mistake to focus on minority impact if the impact can be defined to include more people’s self-interest. Humans are what they are. If you hope to have an effect you work with what you’ve got. Which is us, as we are and not as we someday hope to become.
I just bought a ticket for an international flight about 15 minutes ago.
Zero hidden fees. The quoted price was the price I paid (and included airport tax, etc.) Other fees, such as extra leg room* and checked bags were clearly listed as I went through the process. I opted not to use any of those services.
The only extra fee I’m going to need to pay is airport parking (if I decide to drive to Chicago rather than take the bus).
* Extra leg room seats are free from Chicago to Vancouver, but cost (a very clearly labeled) $126 from Vancouver to Seoul.
Two quick points for now:
1) Airlines pay a lower tax rate for fees than for fares. This gives them a big incentive to maximize fees. Especially for ultra-low cost airlines, who can offer loss leader fares even.
2) Along with fees, airfares should also include applicable taxes and government fees. It’s one thing to see NYC-LAX at, say $250, than to see it at $500 or so with taxes, airport fees, 9/11 fees, etc., even before seat and baggage fees.
The point is the sticker price must be the final price.
Now banking fees/credit cards/payday lenders–*that’s* an area that needs some cleaning up.
Having a little asterisk on the bank website that leads to a densely worded “how we credit your account” that buries the fact that they assess all charges first and then post credits (leading to a high likelihood of NSF charges), all in mouse-print sized fonts, is…problematic. It should be standard practice to apply credits to an account FIRST, and then debits, on days that they coincide.
Stuff like that gets my blood boiling, because it’s so obvious what is being done.
Blame the death of communitarianism at the hands of individualism.
It’s not even obvious from the full text of the speech, which I provided a link to.
There are no such penalties. I’ve booked lots and lots of airline tickets with my children and have always managed to buy three seats together. Window and aisle seats have cost more than middle seats for quite some time, for the very good reason that they’re the ones people least desire. So, if I buy seats 11A, B, and C, I’ll pay different prices for each. But there’s no upcharge beyond the cost of the three tickets.
I actually tend to agree with that. The airlines have, correctly, come to the conclusion that most consumers see their services as a commodity and will not pay extra to fly on carriers that have roomier seats and more space in between them. That creates a race to the bottom.
One of my pet peeves is when people complain about the inability to purchase seats together. What they are really complaining about is that there is a charge for seat selection–which is by now well-known.
People are trying to game the system when they purchase, say, four seats at the lowest cost and then show up on the plane and try to shame/bully people into giving up their paid-for seats so that the family can sit together. Those four low-cost seats are all going to be middle seats.
This isn’t a “hidden cost.” It’s very clear what people need to do–when purchasing tickets on a regular non-budget airline, you click on “select seats now” which takes you to the seating schematic and yes, there will be an additional charge. That is literally the price you pay to have seats together.
The other option is that airlines raise their ticket prices across the board to a level that would provide profit on every seat. It would be FAR more expensive to fly.
@James Joyner: Well, it’s obvious to me.
Others have reported such penalties. Your experience does not encompass all.
I’m not entirely opposed to differential pricing for more desirable seats. I recall the good old days when we few frequent flyers could talk the desk personnel into better seats, sometimes even an upgrade. Sometimes they even spontaneously upgraded us!
But it was obvious from the start (to some of us) that the frequent flyer system had inflation built into it, and here we are now.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: @Michael Reynolds: I think that as we get older we get more discouraged from helping people because for a heck of a lot of them the solutions aren’t that easy. And the older we get, the more likely we are to have tried to help people and had it blow up in our faces. For instance, what percentage of people who are homeless are mentally ill or have lived on the street enough that their habits are now more likely to keep them on the street?
The major difference I see between the U.S. and Europe is that Europe historically has institutionalised (often involuntarily) mentally ill people whereas in the U.S. we turn them loose into the community and shrug our shoulders at their behaviour because “freedom”.
@Cheryl Rofer: The wording says “low-income folks and people of color” as if these were two different groups affected by junk fees. Assuming this was intentional and not just sloppy speech-writing, it’s either implying people of color need extra legroom, or just emphasizing that people of color are marginalized in general and therefore this is an added burden. Oh, and playing to the base either way.
If there was any implication that it was racist, then it’s probably also sexist and maybe nationalist as well. I mean, there are lots of tall Dutch men, as a random example.
At his core, Dr. Joyner is still a conservative, on social and economic policy questions, I take looking for a way to discredit Biden as a given.
It would be fantastic if this were how America views class, but it’s not. Working-class whites do not believe they have common cause with working-class people of color because in America color trumps class every time.
That’s not to say I disagree with you. I agree completely. The Democrats’ overriding message should be to draw common cause among all working-class Americans. That they too often don’t reinforces my point above and shows how far even “good” liberals have to go.
Back in the early 2000s I got a call from my boss on a Friday afternoon asking me to travel from Detroit to San Jose the following Monday. I booked a flight right away and when I got my seat assignment it was 2A or 4A or something. I thought, “this can’t be right, that’s first class.” I called the airline back and they told me since my ticket was full-fare coach (the only available with such short notice) and there was space in first, I had been automatically upgraded. And the upgrade was for both ways!
The work when I got there was long and stressful but the travel was awesome.
@Mu Yixiao: I’ve never had problems with hidden fees on international flights either. The last time I was in Australia flying Virgin from Adelaide to Sydney, on the other hand, I was greeted by the ticketing agent telling me that the passage I had booked on Travelocity did not include baggage and I would need to pay and additional $125 dollars (Aus) to bring my luggage with me. The counter person eventually decided that he couldn’t take Discover and didn’t want to wait for me to get enough cash at currency exchange and just checked my bag at no charge.
Why Travelocity didn’t know that most people in Oz travel in country with no baggage is of no consequence to me. I just wanted you to know that “I experienced no hidden charges on my last international flight” may not be the argument ender you imagine it to be.
But afterword, I did understand why my flight to Sydney was only $30 while my flight to Aukland a day or two later was $175.
Wasn’t intended to ben an “argument ender”. Just a data point.
I’ve never run across a fee that wasn’t apparent at the time of booking–domestically or internationally. The fees are certainly there, but they’ve always been apparent at the start.
@grumpy realist: “and shrug our shoulders at their behaviour because
“freedom”we decided taking care of the mentally ill in custodial situations was more cost than society wanted to bear.
FTFY (And you’re old enough to know better, too!)
@just nutha: I would have thought my quotes around the word “freedom” would have made the sarcasm clear….
@Mikey: “The Democrats’ overriding message should be to draw common cause among all working-class Americans.”
Perhaps not. If that message potentially alienates “moderates” and “swing voters” (and the evidence appears to be that it’s a message that already doesn’t resonate with the public), then drawing common cause among all the working class may well be something that liberals are already too guilty of.
@grumpy realist: On issues of how America deals with mentally ill people, irony is lost on the audience. I see it as a Poe’s Law thing. We simply can’t hyperbolize the problem to the point of satire.
@Michael Reynolds: Blacks have a feeling that Dems depend on them for votes, but don’t do much for them. While you may not agree, I think you can understand that feeling. I agree that class based discussion, rather than race based, is more inclusive, and except for whatever shreds of affirmative action Scotus is still allowing this week, policy: SS, Medicare, Obamacare, SNAP, and what have you are, in fact, color blind and generally help more whites than Blacks.
It took us hundreds of years to make it generally accepted that racism is bad thing and it’s hard to not try to cash in on that. But the real issue is that talking about helping minorities helps drive minority turnout, while speaking only in class terms may improve white D turnout. A trade off. ‘Tis a puzzlement. One on which I suspect Ds are relying on polling data. Was Biden right to do it in this case? Damned if I know for sure.
@just nutha: At the risk of being pedantic, even back in the 80s courts were already ruling that the autonomy of schizophrenic patients prevented agencies from stopping them from living on subway grates. The irony horse has been dead for a loooooong time.
@just nutha: The “charge” is made by a Black-owned, Black-staffed publication aimed at Blacks and I largely defend Biden from the charges in the post. I tend to agree with others in the thread that the phrase is shopworn and somewhat eye-roll inducing and perhaps an indicator of bad speechwriting.
Airfares are the embodiment of Kathy’s First Law: Nothing is ever so simple.
Have you ever heard of hidden city or open jaw ticketing?
Suppose you want to travel from NYC to LA, and the airfare is, as an example $500, taking into account all fees and taxes. You think it’s too high and wonder whether you could instead fly to San Diego and take the bus to LA. So you look and find a NY to San Diego flight for $200. Sweet!
Then you notice it requires a connection at LA.
Well, even better. You book the ticket to San Diego, but get off in LA. So long as you don’t check a bag, which would get sent to San Diego, you’re ok.
This wouldn’t work on the way back. When you fail to board in San Diego, you’ll be a no-show for LA to NY as far as the airline is concerned. But you’re wiser now. So, for the return you look at fares for LA to Buffalo. And odds are you’ll find one with a connection in JFK or La Guardia or Newark, for less money than a flight to NYC.
Why does it work out this way? Because the demand between LA and NY is huge, while that between NY and Sand Diego or LA to Buffalo is much smaller. The calculations get murkier from there, involving historical patterns of empty seats in the higher-priced fare, demand from LA to San Diego, etc.
Airlines don’t like this. It’s not illegal, as far as I know, and the money difference and damages don’t merit a lawsuit. But you could lose what you have accrued on the airline’s frequent flyer program, and you may be blacklisted and not allowed to fly that airline in the future.
To me, it shows the whole system is effed up, and stacked against the traveler.
Consider, too last-minute tickets.
If you sold apples at your store and they sold poorly and were close to going bad, you’d lower the price to make them a more attractive purchase. If a flight for today at 2 pm is selling poorly, the fare is not discounted. Instead, the fares get higher the closer the departure time gets. Why? because odds are they’ll be snapped up by business traveler who have to make that flight and no other.
Maybe you would rather have pears instead of apples, but you can’t travel to your meeting in San Francisco by taking a flight to Chicago.
@James Joyner: I was simply noting my approach to reading comments by you on matters of social and economic policy.
@Kathy: Years ago I saw a column by an airline PR person complaining vehemently that taking advantage of the hidden city thing was morally corrupt and amounted to stealing from the airline. A case he failed to be very convincing on, as this was before the era of over-booked flights and they were taking the airplane to Salt Lake and then SFO with an empty seat and no fare at all if I didn’t go to Salt Lake or wherever. I don’t recall any claim it was illegal, but that was many years ago.
My issue with charges for seat selection is when the seats are nothing special.
If you put in extra legroom seats (economy plus, comfort, whatever), than by all means charge extra. After all, the extra legroom means fewer seats on the plane. They should be more expensive. I can even accept charging extra for exit row and bulkhead seats, which have more legroom for safety and design reasons. I can choose not to pay for them, after all.
But when the airlines begin charging first for seats closer to the front, and then for every seat, that’s abuse. the ticket entitles you to a seat, there’s no reason to charge extra for picking which seat (exceptions noted above).
the other thing that drives me crazy are change fees. I’m sure it doesn’t cost the airline much to change a ticket from one flight to another. through most of 2020 and part of 2021, most even waived change fees due to the pandemic.
Interjet, before it began to have cash flow troubles, used to charge a fixed $15 fee and fare difference* for changes, and you could change anything. I mean anything. If Joe had a ticket MEX to Cancun for tomorrow, he could pay $15, and the fare difference, and change it to someone else’s name from MEX to Acapulco three weeks hence.
*One time I changed my return flight from Monterrey-MEX to Toluca the next day. the fare for Toluca was $5 lower. So they charged me a net $10 for changing the destination and date. Add the 32″ pitch and free snacks and drinks**, and is it any wonder I loved that airline?
**The snacks were small bags of chips or cookies. But if you wanted a coffee and a cup of orange juice, 9 times out of ten you’d get both. Drinks also included wine and beer.
On the one hand, I agree. On the other hand, people *do* express preferences between window, aisle, and middle seats. My husband and I are a good example. He prefers the window seat (looking out the window when there’s a visible horizon helps to quell his occasional bouts of motion sickness). I prefer the aisle (I drink a LOT of water. Ahem.). There are some plane configurations that allow us to choose two seats in coach that are near a point on the plane that is tapered, so there are just 2 seats in the row, not 3. When that configuration exists and is available, we grab it. It costs more, but it’s worth it to us, not just because of the 2-seat no middle configuration, but also because there’s no row behind so we can recline the seats. (I think we have had this on BA?).
When we can’t pick that option, we end up with a window + middle. Which I hate, because the last few times I’ve ended up in the middle, the other passengers (the one who is not my husband) have been total jerks. One dumped a soda all over me and didn’t apologize or move a single muscle to clean up his mess. Another kept pulling his mask down to pick his nose.
I prefer a window seat. Half the point of flying is looking out the window at the world below.
That said, I refuse to pay a penny for seat selection. But then I haven’t flown since 2015 or so, before so many airlines went mad with seat fees.
BTW, if you can, check what plane a flights will operate. The A330 has a 2-4-2 seat configuration in coach. This sounds perfect for you. the Boeing 767 as well, but these are far less common now that the passenger version is no longer made.
One big thing that’s changed since 2015 is that you’re expected to close the window shade once the plane reaches cruising altitude and leave them close until right before landing, so you’ll get a lot of grief from the flight crew and passengers if you actually try to look out the window.
To the point that the 787 has a masterswitch the crew can use to electronically close all the blinds on the entire plane.
On the topic of loss of communitarianism, I have a few thoughts:
1. Higher real estate prices and rents could easily be a factor. How easy is it to start a new club like the Eagles or the Lions. Or a Girl Scout troop without the sponsorship of a church.
2. Declining church attendance has contributed to declining communitarianism and increasing isolation.
3. The Eighties began a trend of what a friend calls “the financialization of everything”. Including our social lives. We work more hours now, even though in the 60’s and 70′ we predicted a 20 hour work week. But that’s less money, and less status. We’re running the status treadmill. I continue to think that most Americas, regardless of politics when faced with a choice between buying a TV or keeping someone from dying, would forgo that television. But the choice is never immediately present. It’s never someone you know. Nobody can care about 350 million other people on an individual basis.
So some describe wealth as a virtue that benefits others. It’s the financialization of morality.
If true, yikes on American Whites. This is a tell, and not a good one. Could they possibly be as childish and selfish as claimed by some? Yikes.
Anyway, I’m in Europe again — 6th time sinve Aug 2021, still trying to decide where exactly I might expat/immigrate. No people is perfect but white Europeans are pretty cool. Definitely not as racially problematic, as a whole. I don’t understand why.
Has ‘colorblind’ messaging on Medicare Obamacare helped Democrats win elections in any durable, consistent way?
Democrats overriding message should be drawing common cause among Americans, as someone said. But its immediate electoral concern should be turning out its base, as you rightly note.