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Flight Attendants Mutiny Against Charging Passengers for Goodies

Monday, 2 May 2011 | 1:54 PM ET
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Attention, airline executives.

Your employees are rebelling against you in ways that may undermine your profits.

Most airlines have stopped giving away snacks, drinks and meals. A chicken sandwich on a recent flight to Los Angeles cost me $10.

The flight attendants were apologetic about charging that much for the sandwich. They were so apologetic, in fact, that they gave me a free beer. And then, a few hours later, they gave me another free beer.

I initially chalked this up to my charm. This was a fun way of looking at things. Maybe I was just the kind of guy who gets free drinks from airline attendants.

Unfortunately for me, that belief didn't last too long. The woman sitting two seats away from me ordered a bottle of wine—and the airline attendant refused to charge her for it.

"Happy birthday," he said. It wasn't her birthday. The attendant went on to explain that they are allowed to give away drinks for passengers celebrating a special occasion.

I started watching the attendants. I soon discovered that many passengers were getting free items. The attendants were conducting a quiet mutiny against the practice of charging for items that airline once gave away for free.

This was just one flight, of course. Maybe I was just lucky to fly with really generous attendants. But I doubt it. It's more likely that this is happening on many flights and across all the big airlines.

As a passenger, I welcome this rebellion. But if I were an investor in airlines, I would question whether the practice of charging for food will really be as profitable as airlines expect. Continental, for example, says it expects $35 million in annual savings and revenue from its food for cash program. Does that number include the secret giveaways by airline attendants?

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