What do travelers really want this year?

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By Christopher Elliott

Honesty. Respect. And a little space. That’s all travelers want in 2019. Are they asking for too much?

How did I arrive at this simple wish list? I asked. You said you’d like the industry to tell you the truth about its prices and fees. You want employees to treat you with respect, no matter how much you paid for your ticket or the color of your credit card. And you said you’re done with being cramped.

As we head into 2019, the industry thinks it knows what travelers want. It’s adding new amenities, more fees and more expensive travel options, claiming you requested it. That’s not what you told me.

Honesty: Tell the truth about prices

Travelers became exasperated with the travel industry’s price games this year. When they ask for a hotel or car rental rate, they want to know the amount up front. They don’t want to wait until they pay to see a total. That’s unfair and deceptive.

“I would like to see nickel-and-dime fees to go away,” says Kathryn Binau, a business development executive from Waunakee, Wisconsin.

Her biggest pet peeve is hotel resort fees; mandatory surcharges tacked on to a “base” hotel rate. The average resort fee now stands at around $21 per night, up 14 percent from last year, according to ResortFeeChecker.com, a site that tracks resort fees.

That should be illegal. In Australia, for example, businesses must “clearly” disclose a full price at the beginning of the online purchasing process. Consumers can report violations to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the country’s consumer-protection and competition agency, which can lead to enforcement action. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) looked into this pricing practice in 2012 but failed to require businesses to quote an all-in price up front.

But that’s what travelers want – bottom-line prices without hidden fees.

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Respect: Stop treating us like cargo

“We need better customer service,” says Carol Stratford, a frequent traveler and small business owner from Newbury, Ohio.

The travel industry doesn’t treat its customers well. Nowhere is that truer than in the airline industry, which is a perpetual bottom-feeder when it comes to customer service. The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index gives the airline industry a cumulative score of 73 out of 100, down 2.3% from last year. With all the junk fees and hassles, many travelers complain that the airline industry doesn’t seem to care for the human cargo it carries.

Not everyone is cargo. In 2018, airlines kept busy adding luxurious new business-class seats to attract more big-spending fliers. But if you sit in the back of the plane, you’ll find that domestic airlines treat the rest of their customers more and more like cattle. Wouldn’t it be nice if the airline industry could treat all of us – not just the platinum-card carrying elites – with respect? That’s what travelers want.

A little space: Roll back the seat shrinkage

“I’d like to see more legroom on domestic and international flights,” says Sherrie Funk, a travel agency owner from Brentwood, Tennessee.

The average seat pitch, a rough measure of legroom, has shrunk from 35 inches in the 1970s to about 31 inches today. And the average width has shriveled from 18 inches to about 16 ½ inches. (Here’s what you need to know about travel health and safety.)

Travelers believed their prayers for relief were answered this fall when Congress passed a law mandating minimum seat size. But the devil is in the details. The law doesn’t set a minimum – it directs the Federal Aviation Administration to do so. I’d be willing to bet the FAA will set the bar low, which will cause the other airlines to shrink their economy class seats to the bare minimum to remain “competitive.”

This shouldn’t be an issue. If travel companies were honest with their customers, and if they respected them, they would not wedge them into a sardine-can enclosure of a seat. And they certainly wouldn’t pretend that we “asked” for it because we wanted less expensive fares. (Related: Family travel in 2019: Where to go and what to do.)

But this isn’t just about the airline industry. Because as airlines go, so goes the rest of the travel industry. Car rental companies, cruise lines and hotels are also showing signs of disrespectful business practices. Unfortunately, when almost everyone does this, there’s no market-based solution. And that leaves travelers wanting. (Related: Is there an easy way to handle spring breakers?)

Perhaps 2019 will be a year of action – for us.

What else do travelers want?

More power outlets. Mark Fei, who works for a technology company in Seattle, says he’s noticed that many hotels don’t have enough power outlets. “It would be nice to have outlets next to both sides of the bed since many travelers now use Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines,” he says.

No more family separation on planes. “Airlines should not be allowed to separate kids from parents,” says Meera Sundram, a retired health care executive who lives in Amman, Jordan. “It creates a horrible situation where families have to ask others to trade seats, for which they have often paid extra.” Congress passed a law that would require airlines to seat families together, but it still hasn’t been put into effect, thanks to government bureaucracy.

Cut the waste. “More effort put into recycling,” says Susan Alcorn, who owns a publishing company in Oakland, California. She sees too many plastic and styrofoam cups and too few recycle bins when she travels. Indeed, hotel trash cans have been vanishing lately in a misguided effort to control cleaning costs. That’s the wrong direction.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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