A likely trend for 2013 might be called "rebundling," airlines packaging a few now-optional services and charging for a tier of service.
"The airline industry is in a period of transition regarding the pricing of its products," said Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorks, an airline consultant. "Airlines will offer fare products, such as basic, basic-plus and comfort, and allow consumers to purchase their desired level of comfort."
American Airlines kicked things off in December by introducing packages of airfare upgrades available on round-trip flights. For example, its Choice Essential tier will get you a checked bag, priority boarding and no fee if you need to change your flight reservation. It costs a flat $68 extra per round trip. Its next tier, for $88, includes those perks plus a 50 percent frequent-flier mileage bonus, same-day flight change, same-day standby and a premium beverage, such as an alcoholic drink onboard.
"It's sort of back to the future," Seaney said. "It's taking those unbundled bundles and putting them back in the fare, so you don't have this perception of nickel-and-diming."
Another issue that could see action early in 2013 is transparency on all those airline fees.
The Department of Transportation is considering forcing airlines to display optional fees alongside airfares everywhere tickets are sold, so consumers can make an apples-to-apples evaluation of fares.
Fares must already be displayed, including mandatory fees, such as taxes and airport fees. But now, many seemingly basic services are optional, such as checked bags or booking an aisle or window seat.
"We are hoping it addresses this idea of transparency with all these hidden fees," Hanni said.
"You have absolutely no idea how much the sandwich is going to cost or whether they put a credit card slot on the bathroom," she joked. "We're not saying, don't have ancillary fees. Just show us what they are."
Leocha predicted that consumers "are going to win a partial victory." He thinks the DOT will require that at least baggage fees and seat-reservation fees be clearly stated when consumers are shopping for fares.
"We are OK with partial fee disclosure - of the fees that used to be part of the airfare in the old days, such as seat-reservation fees and baggage fees," Leocha said. "The other fees need to be disclosed on the airlines' websites, but those are not fees that will impact whether or not you will take a flight, like pillows and blankets, food, extra legroom."
GADGETS CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF?
It was about a year ago that actor Alec Baldwin was kicked off a plane before takeoff in Los Angeles. He reportedly refused to halt his smartphone playing of "Words With Friends," an electronic word game like Scrabble.
Baldwin and the flying public might get good news during 2013.
The Federal Aviation Administration will be reviewing its policy that forces passengers to turn off their portable electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops, tablet computers and e-readers, during takeoffs and landings - technically, below 10,000 feet.
Pressure in Washington is mounting.
In December, both the Federal Communications Commission and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., urged the FAA to finally allow electronic devices during takeoffs and landings. McCaskill, a member of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over communications and aviation policy, points out the "absurdity" of the ban, especially given the FAA now allows pilots to use iPads to replace their paper flight manuals in the cockpit.
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