Attention World: A US Airways Plane Is Just A "Flying Vending Machine"

When US Airways announced that they would no longer be offering complimentary beverages in coach, we wondered how long it would take before other airlines ditched the free stuff. So far, none have, and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), has denounced the move, calling US Airways planes “flying vending machines.”

The flight attendants say that not only does this “nickel and dime” approach turn flight attendants into “cashiers,” it could cause an already irritated traveling public to become enraged:

“In the current industry of customer frustration, the last thing flight attendants want to do is add fuel to the fire,” said a spokesperson in a press release.

Bloomberg reports that US Airways is trying to calm fears of a violent uprising by instituting a policy of non-confrontation with potential insurgents.

“We’re trained to keep order on an airplane and defuse confrontation,” Mike Flores, president of US Airways’ A.F.A. chapter, said in an interview Thursday. “If it takes giving a free beverage to somebody to do that, so be it. I expect there will be flight attendants who just give everything away.”

No Free Coffee on US Airways (Unless, of Course, You Insist) [NYT]
US Airways Aircraft Turn Into Flying Vending Machines (Press Release) [Portfolio]
US Airways’ air-rage incentive [Economist]
(Photo: Jenna Belle )

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  1. Mr_Magoo says:

    “…we wondered how long it would take before other airlines ditched the free stuff. So far, none have…”

    And yet the article directly below this one talks about JetBlue beginning to charge $7 for pillows and blankets.

  2. RabbitDinner says:

    Ew. You couldn’t pay me to use the pillows and blankets

  3. OMG! Ponies! says:

    And what’s the alternative? Taking a road-trip with $4.49/gallon gas?

    My couch: the official airline of my staycation.

  4. Shevek says:

    Well, I’m glad that people who work in the industry recognize that charging for every last thing is not a good idea, but I’m not so thrilled about the fact that AFA thinks I’m going to go berserk if I don’t get a free half-can of Coke and some peanuts.

  5. Dyscord says:

    I haven’t been in an airplane since I was a little kid, but can’t you bring your own drinks and such on board? Buses don’t offer complimentary beverages and you’re usually on one longer than you’re on a plane.

    Of course, if you can’t bring your own drinks on board, then that’s just pathetic.

  6. R3PUBLIC0N says:

    This is insane. By unofficially giving flight attendants discretion in when to charge for products, they become the legitimate target of passenger rage. If this gets out (oh, and it will), the effective result will be “if I can make enough of a scene, I don’t have to pay three dollars for this can of soda”.

  7. jerros says:

    If I was stuck on a US Air jet, on the tarmack for hours and they were charging actual physical money for drinks/snacks/food I’d hit the point where I wouldn’t care about the trouble it would cause and either head for the emergency exit, or start a passenger revolt.

    You can’t stick people in a confined area for hours on end, ask them not to get out of their seats, charge them for food, drink, and headphones for movies and expect these people to be “happy” or fly your airline again.

    I think I’d throw a “Ding Dong the witch is dead” party if US Air ever went belly up.

  8. Meg Marco says:

    @Mr_Magoo: Beverages.

  9. snoop-blog says:

    Those mini pretzels are known to the state of california to cause cancer, Or stomach cramps, I forget which it is.

  10. timmus says:

    Imagine if an airline CEO was running his kid’s lemonade stand.

    Kid: “Daddy, we’re not making money like we did last summer. I’ve been refusing refunds when someone gets a fly in their glass. I took on an attitude like you said, with a stiff upper lip. And now all the customers hate me and no one’s buying lemonade like they used to.”

    Airline CEO: “Then nickel and dime them! Charge them a quarter for sugar. Charge them for your time helping them.”

    Kid: “Wow, thank you Daddy. Here’s half of our earnings.”

    Airline CEO: (pockets the money)

    Damn, I could have been a CEO.

  11. JN2 says:

    I feel for the flight attendants who don’t have the luxury of being separated from the enraged public by bullet proof doors.

    I do though, offer complimentary condolences and a sympathetic ear at my apartment on weeknights between 8 and 12 pm.

  12. quail says:

    I never flew them but back in the early 90′s (or was it late 80′s?) there was an airline called People Movers. It was a no frills airline where the passenger had to pay for everything they wanted or bring it with them. From meals to drinks and everything else. They were super cheap, were the darlings of Wall Street, and they made money hand over fist in the beginning. Then they went bankrupt….

  13. SharkD says:

    @Dyscord: You can bring your own drinks on board, you just can’t bring them through “security” — because that juice box might actually be a glass gallon jug of sub-freezing laboratory strength hydorgen peroxide and or a couple of other highly-corrosive and shock/temperature-sensitive chemicals that might allow you to manufacture an explosive, so long as you keep it super chilled and can transfer them in airtight conditions.

    So… you’re offered the choice of a $5 can of Coke and $4 “snack size” bag of peanuts on the airplane, or a $12 bottle of Coke and a $6 “grab” size bag of chips in the terminal.

  14. @Dyscord

    Yes you can, however the issue with bringing your own is that you need to be very aware of what you bring.

    Drinks can’t go through the security checkpoint.

    Certain types of food will be restricted. That Bagel and Cream Cheese in your lunch box … well you still have a Bagel.

    Once you get past the security checkpoint you can expect to pay 2-5 times what a normal store would charge for items that you can’t bring through the checkpoint anymore.

    That’s if you have time to stop and buy something.

  15. Hogan1 says:

    It’s just bad business to do this. They buy in bulk and probably pay less then 20 cents a can and now they want to charge $2 for something no other major domestic airline charges for.

  16. @Dyscord:
    What sharkd said. Additionally, if you are eating healthy your choices are limited to fast food like McDonald’s and TCBY. Which makes you fat and gives you gas. Which makes the airplane seat too small and your seat-mates in for a smelly surprise. Good times.

  17. Triborough says:

    I still am amazed that this airline is still in business. I have had nothing but bad experiences with them and would never get on one of their aircraft again – even if someone else was picking up the tab.

  18. @TakingItSeriously: Yeah, you are in such a rush to get to the airport 2 hours early only to breeze by security and watch your plane be delayed by an hour, then you work up an appetite racing around the airport when your gate gets changed 3 times. When it’s finally time to board, the attendants are in a rush and loudly remind you how behind schedule they are, as if it’s your fault the inbound aircraft was late. A free 6oz cup of ice with 1oz of soda drizzled over it seems like the least an airline can do.

  19. RabbitDinner says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: Speaking of gas, I support the recent posts about Southwest and other airlines kicking off unruly kids, and I know they kick people off with bad B.O. But what about people with gas problems? How about you have 5 minutes to go to the bathroom or hold your farts. And fines to the farter next to you if airborne.

  20. The_IT_Crone says:

    I’d much rather they raised ticket prices $0.50 to pay for the beverages. Much better than the $5 it costs in the terminal since you can’t bring liquids past security.

    /$4 for a bottled water? REALLY?!

  21. rachmaninov1 says:

    Last Friday, the first day of charging for drinks, I flew two flights on US Airways (San Antonio to Charlotte, and Charlotte to National).

    Frankly, the charging has had a dramatic effect on flight attendant workload, as the vast majority of people did not purchase drinks.

    The flight attendants seemed to stop only every few rows, at most.

    AFA rightly fears the perception that flight attendants are there to meet federal regulations — not to serve consumers.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, they also fear that a decrease in workload requirements might lead to staffing decreases…

  22. maneki neko says:

    If, God forbid, I ever have to fly US Air again, I am going to try this technique: “I want a soda but there’s no way in hell I’m paying for it.” I hope that doesn’t end up getting me arrested.

    But man, I really feel for the US Air flight attendants (the ones who don’t get downsized, that is). They are going to have to deal with passengers who are even angrier than before.

  23. @RabbitDinner: But what if you get the bubble-guts while the seatbelt sign is illuminated? Or during takeoff or landing? Should there be a fee then?

  24. RabbitDinner says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: You have a window of time. Sitting next to someone who farts for an hour before finally deciding to go is awful. I wanted to thank him for finally taking the dump

  25. snoop-blog says:

    @RabbitDinner: lmfao!!!!

  26. jrobie says:

    It’s really hard not to take out one’s rage on hapless flight attendants. They are, after all, the smiling faces of the corporation that is ruining your day and wasting your time, it takes a big man not to ruin their day in return.

  27. RabbitDinner says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: Although with gas, it is very easy to shame people. I always do the wrinkly nose, or make a very audible comment to a family member or friend next to me

  28. EarlNowak says:

    US Air is worried. They thought they’d be a leader in cutting back, but no one is following.

    Their most recent bonehead move was cutting bonus miles for elite flyers- which has lead to their most frequent flyers switching loyalties to different airlines. Nice way to reward your best customers, morons.

  29. wcnghj says:

    @Dyscord: You can’t bring drinks through airport security. You can however, bring empty bottles.

  30. badgeman46 says:

    As we speak I am booking a flight to Manchester, NH. Guess what? Usairways is the cheapest at $117, but United is A buck more! Since it is going to cost me AT LEAST a dollar more to fly Usairways, making it a tie. I am going with United! Good Job Usair!!! Made my choice simple.

  31. Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen says:

    I wonder how much it costs the airlines to have the bag of pretzels custom printed with the airlines name.

  32. saury316 says:

    i was on a US Airways flight on Friday, and feeling thirsty, I asked for a glass of water. I was told by the attendant that they only have bottles, which are $2 each… reminds me of those clubs where they refuse to give you a glass of water and force you to buy bottles… absolutely ridiculous!

  33. orielbean says:

    If you raise even the slightest stink on the US Airways flights – about ticket prices, long wait, terminal delays, etc, they will just give the drink to you. I have seen it in action exactly 6 times over the past 2 months and they caved every single time for no money. And 4 of the 6 times, the passenger didn’t raise their voice or be rude about the issue.

  34. ckaught78 says:

    I’m still waiting for them to start charging for tickets by the pound.

    But The_IT_Crone has it right, just charge an exta $.50 for my ticket. Heck, charge and extra $2 for all I care.

    This nickel and diming has to stop.

  35. wattznext says:

    how can they hope to impose a $5.00 per restroom usage fee if they don’t help us fill our bladders? So shortsighted…

  36. wattznext says:

    @orielbean: yeah, and what happens when i start to voice my opinion, and i’m told i am being disruptive and a danger to the crew and other passengers? next thing you know the plane is diverted because someone was annoyed at the lack of free soda. Don’t think it could happen? I betcha it could…

  37. Canino says:

    From the article: I expect there will be flight attendants who just give everything away.

    It’s true. They’re sluts.

  38. synergy says:

    If they charged less accordingly with the less fuel now being used to haul around food, I’d be fine with it. I never bought stuff from them anyway since it’s so highly overpriced. I doubt they’ll make the cost difference, though.

    Just as a note, friends who travel frequently to Europe tell me that this is common over there. No free food, no extra bags etc etc. They think Americans are spoiled on this regard….

  39. synergy says:

    @saury316: You would think this was illegal. A human being shouldn’t be charged for water, at least not in situations where you have no alternatives (like in the terminal where you can go to the fountain instead of buying it in a bottle). Ridiculous.

  40. datapants says:

    Call it luck, but I’ve rarely had a truly bad experience flying, even on the rare occasions when I was forced to fly US Airways.

    I’d be surprised if the so-called vending machine strategy of US Airways lasts very long, since a business traveler on an expense account generally prefers to pay by credit card – either by purchasing snacks in the terminal, or by booking a slightly more expensive flight on a competing carrier whose head isn’t lodged quite so far up its own ass. The problems with cash are due to the dweebs in the accounting departments where most people work can be really annoying about reimbursing cash expenses without a receipt.

    This matter is mostly academic to me, though, since I freelance these days, and my home airport, PDX, offers a wonderful selection of restaurants, snacks, and beverages at somewhat reasonable prices. Most of the other airports I encounter are at least tolerable in this regard.

  41. badgeman46 says:

    I bet its pretty funny when everyone has 20 dollar bills!

  42. ironchef says:

    US airways made our plane stay 3 hours on the damn JFK tarmac. The pilot also admitted over the intercom they added an extra hour on top of the flight schedule because they knew they were habitually late.

    No joke…Orbitz had their ontime arrival rating for JFK flights at 30%.

    I’m betting they will install pay toilets as their next step in the flying vending machine plan.

  43. supesguy says:

    @RabbitDinner: Nor me. But in this case you are buying a new pillow and blanket that you can keep.

    The airline says it’s doing away with the recycled blankets and pillows it had been using. Instead, passengers will be able to get what the airline calls an “eco-friendly” travel blanket and pillow for $7 on flights longer than two hours.

    They come with a $5 coupon to home furnishings retailer Bed Bath and Beyond.

  44. td0t says:

    My wife and I just had the pleasure of flying US Air. Our flight was delayed four hours due to a mechanical problem and forced us to miss our cruise and pick it up in St. Thomas three days late. Their customer service is horrendous and we’re in an ongoing battle right now. Seeing this company go belly up would put a huge smile on my face.

    How can you knowingly say “we’re charging, unless people cause enough of a fuss.” If that’s the case, just bump up the cost of the ticket a dollar or two more.

  45. bagumpity says:

    I always wondered about the “2 oz liquid in a clear container” rule. If I freeze my soda at home, take it to the airport in a really good cooler, then drink off any liquid that melts between the time I get out of the car and go through security, what remains is NOT a liquid. It’s a solid. So is it OK to take it through security?

    And if not, what if I take a solid chunk of dry ice through? It’ll never be a liquid (in any airport on Earth). It’s as solid as the buckle on my belt right up until the time it sublimates into a (mostly) harmless gas. Oh- you don’t want people taking carbon dioxide through security? Better exhale ALL THE WAY people! And no breathing in until you get to your final destination!

    Physics, Chemistry, it’s all there in your middle-school textbooks. Unfortunately, the TSA doesn’t operate at a middle-school level of education.

  46. Cocotte says:

    I once spent an entire 3-hour flight trying to get my change for the lunch I had to purchase… the attendants really didn’t care about my ten dollars and were clearly aggravated whenever I asked them for it. Good thing I’m a white girl or they might have charged me with terroristic air rage.

  47. @bagumpity: Dude, I was detained for half an hour because I argued that my 1 oz tubes of lipstick WAS NOT a liquid or gel but a solid. They wanted me to chuck 5 tubes! But my liquid foundation, that was OK.

  48. ManiacDan says:

    I just took a trip this weekend that included 4 US Air flights, and they treat everything like the last Wii at Best Buy. The flight attendants woke people up to sell them things, and tramped around the cabin with a “snack box” over their heads shouting “LAST SNACK BOX! GET IT BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE DOES!” The whole thing was shameless, and almost as bad as Continental shilling for NBC last year.

    Also, the attendants on all 4 flights tried to get everyone to sign up for a US Air Mastercard. They also offered us extra forms “for our friends.” Once in the terminal I was approached to get a US Air mastercard 4 times in each airport on average (a whopping 8 times in Charlotte NC yesterday).

    US Air, I know you’re going bankrupt, but maybe you should attempt to fly planes on time and have happy employees and customers. Southwest does it, and they’re actually turning a profit! (ok southwest is winning because of fuel hedges and whatnot, but they also have happy customers and employees).

  49. @Cocotte:

    Passenger: “I’ll have the tuna sandwich”
    Stewardess: “That will be $8.00″
    Passenger hands stewardess $20.00 bill
    Stewardess: “I don’t have change, I’ll have to bring you $12 when I get change”

    Well, if passenger were me, I would reply:

    “Tell you what — Get $12 in change, then come back and I’ll give you the $20 bill. “

  50. ManiacDan says:

    @Dooley: I pulled that on a pizza delivery guy once.

    Him: That will be $14
    Me: Here’s a $20, do you have change?
    Him: …no.
    Me: well, come back when you do
    *I close the door*
    *Doorbell rings*
    Him: I found change
    Me: Good, $6 please

  51. Leiterfluid says:

    @orielbean:
    Shenanigans.
    They only started charging for drinks on Friday. How can you have seen this “6 times over the last 2 months.”

    (I flew US Air on Saturday, Brought my own drinks and snacks, and the bottled water is still cheaper at the airport than it is an the movie theatre).

  52. darkrose says:

    I’m flying USAirways over Labor Day weekend. I plan to purchase a beverage inside the security zone at the airport, and bring some delicious, delicious Philly food from outside the airport on the plane. Thinking a pork sandwich with broccoli rab or something. Mmm.. or Herr’s potato chips…

  53. HClay says:

    My airline of choice hasn’t done away with the freebies yet, not that I’d really whine if they got rid of the teeny, tiny complimentary snacks. They should keep water and juice free, though, for health and safety reasons. Many people don’t (but should) realize that air travel dehydrates you faster than average.

    I like to fly with a container full of homemade cookies. Oatmeal cranberry… Mmmm *drools*. So far, they’ve never been confiscated as weapons of terror and/or mass destruction, and they’re just far superior to those creme-filled strawberry jam cookies they hand out on the plane.

  54. RabbitDinner says:

    @darkrose: Oh man I hope my sarcasm detector is broken. Can people stop bringing pungent food on airplanes? It doesn’t happen often, but the last thing in the world I want to smell is someone’s onions or sauerkraut. You should be fined for bringing strong smelling or messy foods and eating them on the plane, and the fine should be tripled for things that cause gas. Quadruple for cabbage or beans

  55. lindyman77 says:

    After weeding through countless airline “price gouging” stories can someone, anyone, please tell me what I am actually paying for when I hand them $626.43 per person for a flight from LAX to DEN? If the money isn’t enough to cover the expected expense of flying me and my family somewhere with a few sparse amenities then what am I paying for? They keep telling me that they need more of my money for the cost of fuel; what was I paying for in the first place?!

  56. azntg says:

    I took a domestic flight in South Korea (currently, the longest domestic flight is probably Seoul to Jeju at 50 minutes) and damn, it blew me away.

    You can realistically check-in 30 minutes before the scheduled take-off time (from full service counter check-in to security to the gate). Up to two free checked baggages for everyone (more if you have good frequent flyer status). Airport concessions that aren’t extremely overpriced. Complimentary cold beverages and hot drinks in flight.

    I got the feeling that this is what flying was like in the US (if not even better) before things went downhill fast.

    In any case, it was miles better better than what I experienced respectively through domestic flights in the US with American, US Airways, (now defunct) ATA and (to a lesser extent with) Continental.

  57. jamar0303 says:

    Northwest has to be better than this. And if you’ve already got a ticket on US Air it’s not too late- get to the airport early and bring your ticket to Northwest instead and have the gate agent look up G ATO BUMP.

  58. SharkD says:

    @bagumpity: Considering that a frozen jar of tomato sauce is a liquid, according to the TSA (see: [www.salon.com] ), your frozen water (or as some snooty, latte-sipping Harvard types call it, “ice”) could very possibly be cold, clear liquid semtex, with a ricin chaser.

    I hope you enjoy your complimentary cattle prod colonoscopy.