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.