Despite Huge Fuel Cost Increases, Networks Criticize Airfare Hikes
If you think it has gotten pricey to fill up your car's gas tank, imagine having to fill the 50,000 gallon or larger tank on a 747. Jet fuel costs 51.4 percent more than it did a year ago, according to IATA and that is taking a huge toll on the airlines.
But when the airlines raise prices or ad fees to make up for the increased cost of flying, the network news media respond with charges of gouging or "nickel and diming" passengers. Some reporters even go to extremes to find as many fees as possible, in order to stoke viewer anger against the industry, other ignore the many airline bankruptcies and billions in losses in the recent years.
CNNMoney reported on April 4, that "most of the major airlines have also decided to cut back growth plans" for 2011 because they are facing $15 billion more in fuel costs if they remain at this level. Airlines have been forced to pass some of those costs on too consumers in the way of higher fares, and this perturbed many in the news media.
The same day, The Associated Press said that many U.S. airlines "scaled back their latest price increase" in places they compete against Southwest which did not raise fares. But with several fare increases this year, the networks have returned to their old attacks on the airlines complaining about price increases, fees and surcharges and talking up public "anger" against their "record profits."
That public anger has been fueled by network reports like "Good Morning America's" March 23 story that was teased with the question "what's the real cost of air travel?" But reporter Matt Gutman went out of his way to rack up the most fees possible, rather than acting like any cost-conscious flyer would. Gutman's exaggerated search for charges included paying for extra leg room, buying miles and taking overweight luggage.
Ultimately his extreme efforts resulted in $540 in fees on a single flight from Miami to New York and Gutman threw in a dig about the profits of airlines coming from such fees. But the segment was not, as ABC advertised, "the real cost of air travel."
Other stories made the airlines desire to be profitable sound like a bad thing. On "The Early Show" March 10, Chris Wragge declared, "Boy, they have not stopped at anything to make a little bit more money here and there" after complaining about rising ticket prices and fees. Mark Orwoll told CBS viewers in December 2010 that increases for peak holiday use were just a way to "gouge" people.
All too often, network reports critical of U.S. airline profits in 2010, which were roughly $3.4 billion for the top five airlines didn't take into consideration the huge losses for the air transportation sector in recent years.
According to Airlines.org, the website of the Air Transport Association, "From 2001-2010, U.S. airlines had a cumulative net loss of approximately $54 billion." U.S Airways, United Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Delta Airlines have all gone through bankruptcies in the past decade.
'Nickel and Diming,' Or Trying to Stay in Business?
Airlines, like every other business are out to make a profit. Despite the media's attempts to turn profit into a dirty word if a business can't turn a profit it won't stay in business, and then the service it provides won't either. One of the slurs the networks have used in attacks on the airlines is the phrase "nickel and dimed" or "nickel and diming."
ABC's Bianna Golodryga used that expression on "Good Morning America," on Dec. 23, 2010. "Ask most passengers traveling this holiday season and they'll tell you, airlines seem to be nickel and diming them every way they can - with fees for baggage, in-flight meals, even earphones," Golodryga said. Her report didn't include anyone to justify some of those fees or to defend ala carte pricing strategies as a means of business survival.
"Nightline" also lashed out at fees with a segment on Dec. 3, 2010. Terry Moran teased the segment claiming that "everyone agrees on [the issue], because everyone hates them: airline fees." While consumers may not like paying more for luggage, or the fees at a given airline, they can shop around or choose another mode of transportation.
Ryan Owens' story that night was another example of a reporter going to extreme lengths to spend money, rather than attempting to spend as little as possible. Owens also consulted Rick Seaney of farecompare.com and introduced him saying, "He says all of that nickel and diming has essentially saved the airline industry."
The "nickel and diming" charge isn't a new attack. Back in 2008 when airlines were desperate to lower costs and find revenue, 'MSNBC Live' host Tamron Hall called price increases "nickel-and-dime fees." Hall ignored the impact high jet fuel prices were having on the airline industry at that time. At that time oil prices had doubled to around $140 a barrel, raising jet fuel prices.
Like 2008, this year, fuel prices have spiked again at jet fuel is already more than 50 percent higher than a year ago.
Media Bias against Airlines Took Off Years Ago
The media have been critical of airlines for fares, fees, delays, safety and pay - just about everything in recent years.
During the summer of 2007 bias against the airlines heated up, NBC's Matt Lauer called it a "summer of discontent for airline passengers" in one of many reports complaining about flight delays. ABC's David Muir declared that "the government confirmed what passengers already know that so far, this the worst year on record."
The CBS "Evening News" attacked airline performance after 20,000 people were stranded on places in Los Angeles because of a U.S. Customs computer glitch. Reporter Randall Pinkston used that nightmare to argue the airlines should be providing better service. He cited Northwest Airlines' in particular, but didn't include anyone from that airline or the airline industry in his report.
Between July 27, 2007 and Aug. 28, 2007, ABC, CBS and NBC aired at least 21 stories highly critical of the airlines including specific attacks on American Airlines, Northwest, Southwest and JetBlue. The networks seldom connected the problem of flight delays to the failing air traffic control (ATC) system run by the government.
The Boyd Group, an aviation consulting company that has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek and other media, faulted the Federal Aviation Administration and ATC system for delays saying, "The main cause of delays is the decades-long inability of the FAA to construct an ATC system that meets the demands of the air transportation system. The ATC system is not a static set-piece to which we must adjust our aviation system. Instead, it is a vital part of our infrastructure which the FAA has repeatedly failed to keep updated."