Additional charges make agents’ jobs harder and frustrate customers, says Bob Morrell, managing director of Reality Training

When I was 19 I booked myself onto a Pan Am flight to the US. Within the costs of the return flight, were the following things. Two suitcases each way. Food and drinks on the plane, and I was allocated my seat after discussion at the check in desk. I paid not a penny more for any of these services.

In many ways it was simpler for the traveller. Today, to take a short flight to Europe, I must book and pay for the flight, pay more for luggage, pay more to choose a seat, to make sure I’m sitting with whoever I’m travelling with, pay more for early boarding options, and woe betide me if I go over any weight restrictions on hold luggage or size limits on my hand luggage. Plus any food and a gin and tonic adds another massive wodge to the full bill. And now the weight levels for bags are pushing lower, so I’m paying more money to take less stuff with me.

We’ve got used to this now, and accept that we’re just paying more, overall, and the airlines make us feel slightly better about it by splitting it all up. Thinking about it, they could launch a ‘retro’ fare where you get all the stuff you used to get for free, included. Radical.

The luggage thing that really got me recently was this. Every year we go to Puglia in Italy, and stay in a villa. It’s two weeks of total indolence, food, wine etc. I’ve recently taught my youngest son to play guitar, so I enquired what it would cost to take two guitars with us on our flight. The instrument policy is achingly simple as I read it, if your instrument is small enough you can take it on as hand luggage. If it is larger (a guitar) you could take your chances by paying for more luggage and checking it in to the hold, with no guarantee it would emerge unbroken at the other end – or you can buy your guitar its own seat!!

Looking at these uninspiring options which would all cost me hundreds, I then looked on Amazon, where I could buy two, good, budget guitars for £30 each. I wondered what it would cost to buy these, and have them delivered to Italy. When I put in the address the postage fee looked like a mistake – £10.95. Not each. To send two guitars to Southern Italy, Amazon can get them where I am going for £11.

In customer service terms, the way travel operators have latched on to making additional charges is interesting – it may make a bit more money, but it makes the selling of a holiday harder for agents, and it is frustrating for customers. It niggles.

For me, travel is all about the anticipation of packing a bag, and taking a little bit of home with you to your destination. When I was a back-packer, in the eighties, everyone from the US had guitars – how did they manage to bring them across? In those days a guitar was an acceptable additional piece of hand luggage. So, this summer, I’ll be sitting there on warm evenings, with a cool Menebrea, and an Insalata Caprese, plucking away and warbling a cool tune or two, feeling satisfied in enjoyment terms, and financial, and wondering, briefly, if others share my mystification at the current, bewildering way we now insist on making people pay for their travel.

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