$5 for a travel pillow

Grapevine Fires – Death Cab for Cutie

It’s about 1.23 in the morning and I’m curled up on a plane bound for Melbourne. Usually I’d be heading out for some snacks with the midnight buddies or tucked away in bed either knocked out from the exhaustion of work or passing the time watching some silly sitcom.

Instead, I’ve just awoken from my countless attempt to get some shuteye on JQ8. It’s my first long haul flight on budget. I’ve not flown more than three or four hours in a couple of years, and definitely not on economy. I’m fortunate enough to have not one but two seats to myself on this flight, and located next to the window near the front – which means easy access to the loo. I personally don’t enjoy long flights, 1hr into it and I’m bored outta my wits. I’ve now watched two episodes of Gossip Girl’s re-runs, one and a half movie, and read a magazine. And yet, I still have about 5 more hours to go. Dear God help me. I’m wide-awake and my body is aching as if I am 99 years old.

So here I am, up and writing and thinking, and seeing ancillary services take place live before my eyes. It’s funny how much we used to talk about it while I was working on Amadeus, and the countless articles I’ve researched and read about it. The online debates, trends and what-nots.

As the carts go down the isle, something different is offered each time, be it food, in-flight entertainment, a wine or two, and even pillows and blankets. Everything you can possibly think of to make your flight more comfortable and enjoyable. I can’t help but think about how these components and services offered to airlines gives travellers a new sense of transparency to what they are paying, and allow low cost carriers to create a whole new market share in the airline industry.

To my right is a big Caucasian dude, probably in his 60s or so, curled up fast asleep. Lucky for him, he has the whole centre row all to himself. A few hours earlier, as the various passengers peer into the pushcarts and browse through their menus, Mr BigGuy whipped out a foot long Subway sandwich from his bag and gobbled it down like it was the best steak sandwich he’s ever had. As I flipped through the menu, glancing over the price of each items, AUD$3.50 for a bottle of water, AUD$4 for a pack of crackers etc., I saw how these ancillary components start to take place. If you’re stuck up above the skies, with 5hours or longer in the plane, you’d do anything to make yourself feel better and more comfortable. Even if you have set your mind to not give in to these extra charges and inflated prices. I couldn’t help but feel ripped off for having to pay such inflated prices for items you can grab off a convenient store before hopping onto the plane.

Like Mr. BigGuy, I had just finished my tiny pack of petit Danish that I grabbed off Starbucks while running for boarding. That and a small pack of Ritter Sport and I was all set to go – yes, you always have to have chocolate. If its anything, that will keep you happy. So now I’m sitting here craving for a glass of ice tea to wash it down, or perhaps something a little stronger, Whiskey perhaps to put me back to sleep. And I contemplate about having to fork out that extra ridiculous amount, and having less shopping money. Yes, it’s always fashion over food. So for people like me, does ancillary services work? Anyone can easily grab a bag of chips and some soda before entering the gates. Laptops, iPads, iPhones can easily replace inflight entertainment. Most unfortunately, nothing can replace the uncomfortable seats.

These little add-ons, are as easily avoidable, as they are readily available and convenient to travellers. Perhaps if these costs were actually hidden within the ticket price, as per a normal air ticket, we might not feel that ripped off after all. Then why break up these costs? Why give people the option? Do airlines make a profit from these ancillary goods? With the demand for low cost carriers constantly being on the rise, especially in APAC where travel is often relatively short distanced, it does prove that people would pay for choices and transparency. Maybe it is a matter of camouflaging the hidden costs by making them ‘transparent’ and separate. Either way, the more comfortable you want to feel on board, the more you’ll have to pay, whether you see the costs or not. 

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