Your money’s no good here — the cashless airline cabin


It wasn’t that long ago, except for alcoholic beverages and maybe headsets, that passengers could leave their cash at home when flying. Good news! Those times are coming back. Well, maybe not so good news — the airlines aren’t cutting out fees, they’re just phasing out cash.

United Airlines is the latest carrier to transition, announcing that with their new “EasyPurchase” system, they will begin to accept credit and debit cards for meals, snack boxes and drinks on March 23. And as of April 1, their flight attendants will no longer accept cash.

In case travel isn’t complicated enough, United’s regional carrier, United Express, will remain a cash only airline. Since United Express now operates some longer routes, Denver to Cincinnati for example, this is another reason (other than a preference for larger planes) to pay attention to the actual airline you are flying. Especially if you want a beer on board.

American Airlines has already announced plans to go cashless this summer. Alaska, Southwest, Virgin America, Jet Blue and Frontier are already there.

This development is a mixed bag. No one will miss the “anyone have change for a $20?” routine. On the surface, sounds like it will make life easier for flight attendants. And it should be easier for business travelers who will have a credit card statement to help them submit expenses.

But cashless means no backup in case of a declined card. And it’s hard to imagine the airlines will have time to do identification checks. Not to mention the question of what will happen with unaccompanied minors, who mostly do not carry credit cards.

Also, as any frequent traveler has learned, the easier it gets to charge for something, the more likely the airlines are to charge for it. And the more likely they are to keep raising that price. Remember when those snack boxes were free?

Oh, and mileage junkies? Starting April 1, if you use a United Airlines Mileage Plus Visa onboard, there will be a temporary 10 miles per dollar bonus. So if you’re close to an award, you might be able to reach it by buying a round of drinks for the house, or rather, the plane.

  • Pat

    I fly Continental almost exclusively, and usually purchase drink vouchers at the airport kiosks (at a small quantity discount) before my trip. The kiosks past security that you can’t check-in thru are good for this, as there’s never anyone using them. I think they say non-transferable, but I’m pretty sure that’s just so you don’t sell them — I’ve never had problems buying a drink for a traveling companion. Do the other airlines do this? Any reason they couldn’t set up a few as vending machines that take cash (and provide change)? Maybe rig it to sell headsets too?

  • Frank

    American Airlines has already announced plans to go cashless this summer. Alaska, Southwest, Virgin America, Jet Blue and Frontier are already there.

    those cashless machines can be a pain in the butt! Some dont work, sometimes the F/A responsible for setting them up doesnt do it right and assumes the machine isnt working. And, sometimes the batteries werent replaced and their dead.

    Depending on the passenger, I…………….like to wipe the card, look down at the machine, make a face and say to the passenger, “This card is reported, “Stolen”. They laugh.

  • Steve Mencik

    Whatever happened to “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private”?

  • Bill

    Some places, I’m pretty sure Canada is one of them, require that people accept cash as a form of payment. Of course there are limits on each type of coin so that you can’t buy an airline ticket with pennies. However, if they airlines are going to require cards only, they should sell gift cards for people to use for those unaccompanied minors and the like. That way, you could buy a gift card at a vending machine in the airport, for example, and give it to that unaccompanied minor. Didn’t they watch “Airline” on A and E a few years ago? Those people fly with no money.