Airplane Dollars Sunset
Photographs and composite image ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

The Single Dumbest And Most Infuriating Fee That Airlines Charge?

“B ut there are a few fees that just grate. And no fee is more grating than the $75 some carriers will ask you to shell out if you arrive so early for your flight that you could just as easily occupy a seat on an earlier departure to the same destination”, according to this article written by Dan Reed for Forbes. “It is, without doubt, the single DUMBEST and MOST INFURIATING fee that airlines charge. And it makes the airlines look not only greedy, but stupid.”

The Single Dumbest And Most Infuriating Fee That Airlines Charge?

The reason why Dan Reed believes that the single dumbest and most infuriating fee that airlines charge is the one in order to change from a flight originally booked to one earlier in the day is because the $75.00 which an airline might charge is close to pure profit: “…that $75 has no relationship to the cost of providing a loyal, high-value customer the courtesy of moving-up to the earlier flight. There’s almost no cost related to doing that. A gate agent may spend 45 seconds tapping on a keyboard. And someone in the bag room downstairs may have to walk a few feet over to pick up that passenger’s bag off one cart and move it to another cart so it’ll be sure to make the earlier flight too. But that’s it.”

Many business travelers— a profitable demographic of customer of airlines which Reed claims would be the one who would ask to be switched for an earlier flight home and not necessarily the leisure traveler — would most likely not even have luggage checked. Reed is generally correct that while the business traveler wants to get home as soon as possible to be in time to relax and enjoy a freshly prepared meal with the spouse and children, the leisure traveler will typically attempt to “squeeze every bit of fun out of every minute they have on the ground.”

That sounds reasonable, right? If there are empty seats on an airplane which is about to depart — ensuring the perishability of those empty seats which most likely will go unsold — why not ensure that a customer is happy and permit him or her to switch to that earlier flight at no extra charge so that the seat vacated for the later flight can still be sold?

Three Flaws With That Opinion

While he does have a good argument with which I generally agree, there are at least three flaws with Reed’s thinking on this fee.

First, if the customer is a business traveler, that customer will more likely than not have already earned elite level status in the frequent flier loyalty program of that airline — meaning that the airline will most likely grant the customer a switch to a seat on an earlier flight free of charge.

The second flaw is that if the airline allows that change for customers without elite level status, then everyone will want to change to an earlier flight whenever they want; and if they can change to earlier flights free of charge, then why not to later flights as well? The minimal cost of that “45 seconds tapping on a keyboard” for a gate agent — whose time is already at a premium — can potentially increase exponentially…

…and why stop there? Should switching to flights which are a day earlier or a week earlier than what was originally booked also be done free of charge?

One thing which has been learned over the years is that customers are conditioned — something which the airlines are currently attempting to change. Once upon a time, the redemption of frequent flier loyalty program miles really did mean a free flight. Today, that notion is nothing more than a fairy tale — and an executive from one airline in particular outright admitted to wanting to further attempting to change the customer mindset away and “use those miles not to fly for free”.

There is the possibility that the vacated seat aboard the airplane for the later flight will indeed be sold — probably a very good possibility during peak times of the day; but the third flaw is that that possibility is not guaranteed.


I am not by any means defending the airlines from not allowing customers to change to an earlier flight at no charge. In an ideal world, all customers should have the opportunity to be able to catch an earlier flight without penalty; while the airlines profit from reselling those vacated seats on airplanes operating on later flights. That would indeed be a win-win situation — but alas, do not count on that happening. As paltry as $75.00 might be to entities enjoying quarterly profits in the billions of dollars, those fees do add up — not counting the potential loss of business through any disdain expressed by the customer who seeks greener pastures after feeling slighted by the airline at what would appear to be a simple request left unfulfilled.

Moreover, I disagree with Dan Reed on which is the single dumbest and most infuriating fee that airlines charge: by far, it is the fuel surcharge — excuse me, the carrier-imposed fee — where theoretically the only cost to the airline is the few seconds it takes to enter the amount into the system, meaning that they are the closest item on the ticket to pure profit.

The name of the fee had to be changed from fuel surcharge to carrier-imposed fee to justify keeping it in place in the price of an airline ticket despite the significant decrease in the cost of fuel.

Unlike the fee to switch flights, carrier-imposed fees are legally deceptive and are far more egregious because they are mandatory — meaning the customers have no choice but to pay them if they want to be passengers on certain flights — and there is no explanation or rationale behind them. For what exactly is that carrier-imposed fee paying? Unlike many ancillary fees, exactly how does the customer benefit from paying a carrier-imposed fee, which can easily soar into the hundreds of dollars on international flights? Why not simply include the carrier-imposed fee into the airfare?

Mandatory carrier-imposed fees are nothing more than the airline version of mandatory resort fees in the lodging industry — and these deceptive fees need to be abolished once and for all.

Photographs and composite image ©2016 by Brian Cohen.
  1. I had an interview with Delta Airlines to be a flight attendant and they gave me a r/t ticket to fly to Atlanta for the interview. When I was finished interviewing I had quite a few hours left as they schedule for the whole day if they need you. I went to catch an earlier flight and they told me it was $50 to leave earlier – and I was like, you people gave me this ticket and chose the times – and you still want me to pay the $50?

  2. As far as I remember, UA allowed its elites to change for free on same day. But I think AA still charges even for some elites? Can you clarify? How about Delta?

    1. If I’m not mistaken, Delta will allow free changes(based on Medallion level) as long as there are seats on the earlier flights IN THE SAME FARE CLASS as originally booked. Exceptions can be had, but YMMV.

      1. I am a Platinum Medallion with Delta and many many times I arrived earlier at the airport and saw there was an earlier flight leaving to my destination. All I have to do is go to the gate and ask if I can get into that flight. If I don’t have a checked luggage and there are seats available I always get it. As a PM I am not charged anything and I was never mentioned about having to be a same fare seat. The plane is going to leave with that seat empty anyway so I don’t think they care about the fare. I was placed couple times in first class with no additional charges.

  3. UA allows + or – 24 hours, so one can return a day earlier or leave the day after, assuming the same fare class is available.

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