THE days of the all-inclusive air fare are numbered, as traditional airlines move towards the introduction of budget-style extra charges, experts have warned passengers.
While travellers have grown to expect add-ons at every turn from no-frills carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet, those choosing to fly with “full service” carriers such as British Airways have been used to everything being covered by a single price.
However, several major airlines have introduced additional charges, and aviation consultants believe the others will follow.
They said carriers were considering a range of charges to maximise income as they struggle with increasing costs such as high fuel prices.
These could include reservation fees for coveted seats with more legroom, those beside emergency exits and bulkheads, or even those next to windows.
KLM is the latest to bring in extra fees, with passengers flying within Europe facing a ¤15 charge to check in a bag from next week.
The Dutch flag carrier, which flies from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen to Amsterdam, is copying sister airline Air France, which introduced the charge at its cheapest fare level in February.
British Airways also introduced baggage charges in March, initially covering a few routes from Gatwick, which were swiftly extended to all UK and European services from Britain’s second-busiest airport.
However, BA said it had lowered fares by the same amount – between £9 and £15 – for those travelling with hand luggage only.
Elsewhere, Lufthansa is switching all but its Frankfurt and Munich routes to no-frills arm Germanwings.
This means passengers on the German airline’s services such as Glasgow-Dusseldorf will have to start paying to check in baggage, and for food and drink on board.
Several traditional airlines have already introduced in-flight catering charges for all economy-class passengers in Europe, such as SAS in 2004.
Other carriers have abandoned “full service” status altogether, with Ireland’s Aer Lingus bringing in a range of charges when it made the change 11 years ago.
Scottish passengers on long-haul routes have not escaped either, with United – formerly Continental – cutting its free luggage allowance on flights such as Edinburgh and Glasgow to New York from two bags to one.
Laurie Price, a consultant with analyst Mott MacDonald and its former head of aviation strategy, said airlines were considering every option.
He said: “I think you could see all airlines looking at the products and services they offer and see how they can maximise revenue. They could charge more for windowor aisle seats, where they can show added value.” Air New Zealand, for example, is looking at keeping a number of spare seats in business class for passengers who show up at the last minute – so-called “go-shows” – with flexible tickets but no booking, Price said.
John Strickland, an aviation analyst with JLS Consulting, said such airlines were desperately trying to remain attractive to passengers in the face of budget carrier competition by appearing to offer cheap fares.
He said: “In a climate of high fuel prices and increasing ticket taxes, and when recession-hit travellers are very price-sensitive, airlines have to seek every means to keep headline ticket prices low. This is driving them to charge separately for those elements which add costs.
“Baggage processing is a case in point. US carriers have introduced such charges, and while there has been resistance, we have seen a much-needed improvement in airline financial performance despite all the external headwinds.”
Bob Atkinson, of comparison website travelsupermarket.com, said: “The airlines are all morphing into each other. Potentially you could see other traditional airlines following Air France-KLM’s lead.”
Air France-KLM said its new charges reflected “drastic” changes to passenger habits.
UK general manager Henri Hourcade said that “70 per cent of passengers in Europe travel without a bag, so we want them to benefit froman ‘à la carte’ travel offer and to create their trip according to their needs and budget”.
Lufthansa said it “currently has no intention” of changing its all-inclusive fare policy on its own flights.
Its spokesman added: “However, we follow trends and behavioural changes closely to provide the service that our customers expect from us.”