Six Airline "Gotchas" We Really Hate

What is an Airline “Gotcha”?

I hate airline “gotchas” – how about you?

You know what “gotchas” are, right? Those awful little surprises that can sometimes mean big fees, big discomfort, or big confusion.

I know Stephanie Bowen of Washington, D.C. hates at least one of them: American Airlines’ $100 one-way unaccompanied minor fee. She and her family thought it would be around, oh, $25 or so.

“Five dollars for a blanket is one thing,” said Bowen, “But 100 bucks to help a kid walk through the terminal? That just seems rude.”

Actually, Stephanie, a blanket is seven dollars (on JetBlue and US Airways). And that unaccompanied minor fee? $200 roundtrip and it’s a pretty standard airline fee, not really out of line – you’ll see it on airlines like Continental, Delta, Spirit and US Airways (United gives you a break by only charging “only” $99 each-way).

“Gotchas” Aren’t Necessarily Hidden but Often Hard to Find

By the way, this fee wasn’t “hidden” exactly, but – lot of people don’t find these fees or other “surprises”, or don’t find them easily, or don’t bother to look. Maybe we should all take some responsibility for the “gotchas”. Maybe. Anyway, here are the ones I hate the most:

Six Airline “Gotchas” We Really Hate

These are the surprises that are the bane of the once-in-a-while leisure traveller – but believe me, they sneak up on us veteran fliers, too.

1. The Fee Gotcha

Need to make a reservation? Get those plane tickets online – not on the phone – or you will pay for the privilege, ranging from $10 on Allegiant to $35 for international reservations with US Airways.

Another surprise fee is…well, this is actually a targeted airfare hike and I’m talking about – “peak travel day” surcharges. You’ll find some airlines have added these surcharge to nearly every day this summer through Aug. 22. And since some of these surcharges can add as much as $60 to your total flight cost, it hurts.


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2. The Airline Ticket Total Gotcha

You’ve seen this: a major airline or another airfare site advertises flights to Europe starting at just $385. Terrific. Only, that’s not the whole story.

Sometimes (and sometimes, often) the taxes, fees and fuel surcharges are not added into that initial price you see, which is also a one-way price. Just so you know, on flights to Europe, the average fuel surcharge is $230 and taxes are an average of $125, so you spend about $355 before you even add in the cost of the ticket. You’ll find this out eventually though.

By the way, the government requires all airfare advertisers show “full fare” prices, but they’ve also allowed to list some government charges separately. That could be changing, according to new airfare rules proposed by the Dept. of Transportation and I’m all for more transparency (which is what you get on our airfare site).


Find a Flight to Europe (with All Taxes/Fees Upfront)

3. The Carrier Name Gotcha

My editor spoke by phone to a Delta customer service rep before her 20 year old daughter’s flight to Prague, to be sure the kid would be flying Delta and not some other airline. She was assured that, “this is a Delta plane, with a Delta crew”.

Except, it wasn’t. The flight was on Czech Airways.

Oh, boy. But then, flying “partner” airlines is a fact of life – certainly in the U.S. – where more than 50% of domestic flights are on regional airlines.

You can usually find this information if you look closely enough, and the airlines say they do not hide it – but some people are not getting the word (including apparently, some airline phone reps).

4. The Surprise Plane or Surprise Schedule Change Gotcha

We’ve heard stories about people paying extra for a comfy airline seat – that suddenly disappears because the airline has switched (and downsized) aircraft. But how about when they switch your schedule?

It happens, thanks to all these capacity cuts – which can turn nonstop flights into connecting flights. Plus, smaller aircraft can cause bin space to disappear. I was on a regional carrier just last week where there was only enough overhead storage for an iPod – a Nano. Hate that.

5. The Airline Ticket Price Gotcha

I know a lot of people really hate this, too: the discovery that a seatmate paid $250 for the ticket that cost you $500! Frankly, this comes down to the byzantine pricing methods of airlines, plus supply and demand (and yes, I can walk you through all the grisly airfare pricing details).

Unless you purchase your tickets on FareCompare, you might want to avoid talking to your seatmate.

6. The Child Escort Gotcha

Here’s the gotcha, and it’s not the price – it’s what you get for your “unaccompanied minor” fee: not much. You get an escort to and from the plane and that’s about it. Oh, maybe a kindly flight attendant will pay them some attention, but remember, the airlines are not babysitters.

That said, they really ought to see that your child gets to his/her proper destination – I mean, that should be understood. Sadly, it doesn’t always work that way, as we saw earlier this summer when two kids were simultaneously sent to the wrong cities via Delta.

Tell Us Your “Gotcha” Stories

Got some good “gotchas” of your own? I’d love to hear about them. Facebookers, are you listening?


Published: July 14, 2010