It’s more of a money-making exercise than they’d like us to think, says Gemma Antrobus, chairman of Aito Specialist Travel Agents

Airline add-ons have recently been a hot topic in the Haslemere Travel office, so it genuinely felt like someone from the BBC had been listening in on our conversations when Radio 1 presenter DJ Clara Amfo reported on this very subject.

Airlines have been trying to save money for decades. Many will remember when American Airlines saved $40,000 per year back in the mid-80s by removing a single olive from the salads in its first-class cabin. Prior to this, the former Northwest Airlines saved $50,000 per year by cutting its lemons into 16 slices rather than 10 when serving them in drinks.

With fuel prices sky-rocketing, cutting down on usage provides a massive saving. Lighter planes are cheaper to fly, so BA descaled the toilet pipes on its Boeing 747s and 777s, resulting in a £635,000 saving. Indian airline GoAir went as far as to say it would employ only female flight attendants in the future, as they were lighter than men.

‘Optional’ extras

While I’m sure the decision-makers at all airlines are continually looking at ways to run a leaner fleet, it very much feels that today’s passengers are in no way benefiting from any of these savings. The cost of flying is increasing, but even more so, the cost of ‘optional’ extras is spiralling out of control.

Last year 66 of the world’s largest airlines collectively reported £33 billion in revenue for ‘extra fees’.

That’s a staggering 10% of their total revenue. Airline add-ons include seat reservations, priority boarding, security fast-track, extra-legroom seats, printing boarding passes and taking additional baggage, to name but a few.

Gone are the days of booking your flight-inclusive holiday, paying one price and nothing again until your duty-free purchases at the airport. Nowadays, if you’d like to sit with your travelling companions, there is a charge, along with taking some luggage with you and enjoying a drink or snack on board. In some cases these add-ons are more than the cost of the actual air fare.

Penalising passengers

Even travelling in a premium cabin and paying thousands of pounds for your ticket does not come without the opportunity to choose your seat, with, you guessed it, an extra charge.

As a good independent Aito agent, we would always advise our clients at the time of booking about these add-ons and help them navigate and book them if they wish, but we can’t enforce it.

Until recently, I still believed that clients who chose not to prepay for their seat choices would still have options available 24 hours in advance when check-in opened – don’t airlines still hold back a percentage of their load until this point? I’m now not so sure as we have seen an increasing number of clients, travelling on the same booking, being split up and scattered across a cabin. Could it be that the airlines are penalising passengers for not prepaying for their seats? Are they trying to teach them a lesson and scare them into these ‘optional extras’ for future bookings?

The airlines cover all of this in their small print and say it’s all in the name of ‘transparency’, but I can’t help thinking it’s much more of a money-making exercise than they’d like us to think.