Air travel customer service: Food on board, loose change at TSA, get ready for more fees


Here is a collection of stories that focus on customer service while traveling by air — airline food, TSA confiscates loose change and United’s CEO proudly announces new fees.

It’s Personal: Airline-food economics – All demand, short supply

From the ultimate punch line to endless jokes, airline food has become something of a sought-after amenity on flights these days. And just when it seems to be getting respect (well at least, demand), airlines are packing food carts with less and less meals available for sale.

The snack cart, we had been warned by a flight attendant over the public-address system, might run out of food. This was largely by design, she explained, not stocking enough food for everyone on board. Oh, and what was on the menu – an Italian club wrap, a chicken salad, a fruit-and-cheese offering, snack boxes – would have to be purchased.

Now would be a good time to point out that this was a nonstop, five-plus-hour flight between two of the largest cities in one of the most advanced economies in the 21st-century world.

Seated three rows from the back, I was mildly horrified by this brazen attempt at a preemptive apology. It was as if the airline were saying, “I dare you to be disappointed, I dare you to eat lunch.” But I hoped for the best …

U.S. can’t afford to give away air travelers’ lost change

In an unbelievable report, the Congressional Budget Office highlighted that the government can not give back almost $1.2 million to charities that passengers forget at TSA checkpoints. The ruling, taken to its logical end, would mean that if passengers forgot money at the checkpoint and then returned to collect it after walking to the gate, it would already be part of TSA’s budget.

“One would think that providing a cost estimate for this bill would be straightforward,” said U.S. Representative Jeff Miller, who is sponsoring legislation to redirect the money.

“Only in the federal government can change you are forced to remove from your pockets and then accidentally leave behind be counted as guaranteed income to the TSA. This is the problem with our government today,” Miller, a Florida Republican, wrote in a newsletter to constituents last week.

At issue is the fact that the Transportation Security Administration has already collected about $1.2 million in forgotten money, according to the CBO. And the TSA, which said it cannot discuss pending legislation, has legal authority to spend it as it pleases for other aviation security measures.

“Requiring the agency to transfer amounts to USO would accelerate outlays,” CBO said in its findings.

United Air to beef up travel perks, offerings according to CEO

Airlines are drunk on fees. Amazingly, United’s CEO, Jeff Smisek, has just promised the flying public a selection of more fees couched as perks. Unfortunately, he is not allowed to tell us about these new fees. I’ll bet the fees are hidden until the last minute, just like the rest of them that airlines spring on us as we travel.

“I’m not allowed to talk about it, but they’re going to be good and they’re going to be cool,” he said.

When pressed on the nature of the offerings, Smisek pointed to another United service called Fare Lock, that allows customers to pay a fee to reserve a booking and lock in a fare until they are ready to commit to it.

United Airlines is the world’s largest airline. It was formed from the merger of United Airlines and Continental Airlines. The new company is based in Chicago and run by Smisek, who was chief executive of Continental before the merger.

The U.S. airline industry has managed to pull itself out of a steep downturn last decade by downsizing and selling fewer seats, which enabled it to boost fares.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by JoshuaDavisPhotography