Are airfares on a rollercoaster, or are they actually climbing?

This chart, which comes to us courtesy of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, is quite revealing. And at the same time, misleading.

It shows how volatile airfares have been during the last 15 years. It is also exhibit “A” for the now-profitable legacy carriers when they cry for tax breaks, government loans or try to justify one of their many new fees.

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Point taken. It’s a competitive industry, as suggested by this data. Well, kinda. Airfares don’t tell the whole story.

Here’s another graph to consider: Reservation cancellation fees, by quarter.

And how about the one on top of this page?

I’m no statistician, otherwise I’d adjust airfares to include these ancillary fees. And you know what? Airfares would be a lot more expensive after these extras were factored in.

Some of you airline apologists will say ancillary fees are good. After all, why should we pay for something we don’t use?

Maybe they should listen to what Kevin Krone, Southwest Airlines’ vice president of marketing, sales and distribution, told a recent conference:

Anybody here loves paying for baggage fees? We just don’t think that’s right. It doesn’t make sense that when you’re traveling away from your home that you would come without a suitcase.

His comment was greeted by a round of applause.

Change fees and luggage fees are not optional for most passengers. They should be included in the price of a fare.

In fact, a recent survey by the Consumer Travel Alliance found that hidden fees charged by airlines on popular routes can increase the base cost of an airline ticket by an average of 54 percent for a typical traveler with two checked bags and extra legroom, or by an average of 26 percent for a comparable one-bag traveler. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the founders of CTA.)

Could airlines continue to turn a profit if they included these items in their fares? Ask Southwest. It does.

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