We live in an era of airline fees. Where once ticket prices included checked baggage, inflight meals and seat selection, increasingly, those items are add-ons geared towards generating extra income for carriers. According to a recent survey by Fly.com, there are actually some luxuries passengers are willing to shell out for -- they're just not always in line with what airlines actually charge.
"Overall, fees are here to stay, and as we continue to see a debundling of fares, passengers will increasingly be asked to pay for various services that previously they didn't," says Warren Chang, vice president and general manager of Fly.com.
"There's an overall perception that consumers feel they're being nickel and dimed, and it's important for airlines to express what value they are presenting."
Give passengers what they want
According to Fly.com's survey, the most widespread fees are also some of the least popular.
While U.S. airlines collected $2.5 billion from checked baggage fees between January and September 2013, 89% of respondent said it's important for them to be able to check their bag for free.
Also, with the exception of Hawaiian Airlines, all U.S. carriers now charge for in-flight meals on domestic flights, even though nearly half of those surveyed classified free food as an important perk.
If airlines dropped these fees, they could recoup in other areas. Fly.com also found that 20% of respondents would pay for a first class meal in coach class, a service that few carriers offer.
"In my view, that's something that would be a real win-win for the airlines. It doesn't devalue first class, as people aren't just paying for the meal, but for the exclusivity, for more space, for better service and amenities. First-class meals would enhance the flying experience in coach without detracting from the experience in first," he adds.
Put it in the bin
Cramped storage space is not only a headache for passengers, it's poses a financial loss for carriers as well.
While customers malaise through the aisles, holding up boarding in an attempt to fit their carry-ons on the plane, airlines are losing money (slow boarding costs them approximately $10 million yearly). Increasingly, airlines have started charging for carry-on luggage, a fee that is, understandably, not popular with passengers.
Frequent flyers have another solution in mind. Rather than pay to bring luggage on-board, they'd rather spend extra for roomier overhead bins. Of those surveyed, 42% said this is a service they would happily splurge on.
"No airline allows you to buy designated overhead bin space, but based on our findings, it's definitely something they should consider," says Chang.
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While airlines are investing heavily in upgrading their systems to offer passengers wi-fi, many of those surveyed expressed it's not really a feature that matters to them. Only 30% said they would pay extra for wi-fi, a number that surprised Chang.
"With large populations having their own smart phones, I would have thought they'd want to bring their own entertainment systems on board, but that wasn't something our survey found," he says.
A little extra for comfort
As plane seats continue to shrink, it's probably no surprise that most fliers are willing to pay for a little extra room.
Nearly 90% of passengers said they wanted more comfortable seats, and 45% said they'd pay for extra legroom. A good chunk were willing to go even further; 34% of travelers would pay to prevent the seat in front of them from reclining and 26% would pay to have an empty middle seat next to them.
Some of the perks respondents wanted would be a challenge for airlines to implement: 13% of those polled said they'd pay to have control of their armrests, 4% said they'd shell out for the right to control the window shade, and 4% said they'd pay to be first in line for the restrooms.