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May 14, 2021

My bid to become an airline executive

By Jason Buckland, Sympatico / MSN Finance

Shhh. My editors don’t want me writing this article. They really don’t. This one’s just between you and me.

While I’m gainfully employed by the good people of MSN, I’ve been secretly working with a hidden agenda this whole time. Each day, as I research the issues that piss off you, the consumer, I come across countless stories about airlines constantly screwing Joe Traveller, charging him outrageous fees for necessary services simply because they can.

And one thought keeps creeping back to me. Pfft, I could do that.

Sure, people would line up to turn Monte Brewer’s gravesite into a public toilet should he pass away, but guess what – that infamous ex-Air Canada CEO is one wealthy man. Like everyone else, I want in on the airline honcho cash.

The thing that gets me is that it seems so easy. Yeah, there’s a bit of public outcry over hidden fees, but the flying business is such a monopoly anyway that fliers pretty much have to suck it up and pay whatever the airlines want or they don’t travel.

But, as AC and the like have figured out, you need to be creative when screwing your customers. You can’t just have a flat fee and charge that same amount because, frankly, that’s how about every other business works. Prices have to be concealed and with the ability to vary based on nobody’s merit but the airlines’. That’s where the real cash cow lives.

So with the news coming that baggage fees have now turned into a billion-dollar industry within the kajillion-dollar airline industry, the fat cats are going to be looking for people with new ways to keep nickle-and-diming. Guys, I’m here. Please, look no further.

I decided to come up with a few ideas I could pitch to the airlines in my official bid to become an executive of the skies. Some of the more ludicrous examples of airline fees out there (like this one, where US Airways actually charge you extra for paying to check your bags in person and not online) will seem tame by comparison.

Remember, the goal is to enrage customers but be just subtle enough that it won’t make them want to drive cross-country instead. See how these make you feel:

The Bathroom Breezer Fee: A few months ago, our own James Havers wrote how Ryanair was thinking about charging its customers to use the airplane washroom. Now that’s thinking! My question is, why stop there? Don’t airlines realize how awful some of these bathrooms are? You have a dank, three-by-three foot space only ventilated by the air coming up from retractable toilet lid on your hands. It is, by most standards, terrible to use an airplane washroom and that should be, by your standards, a commodity! Why not capitalize on this? Station a flight attendant outside the bathroom at all times armed with two cans of Febreze Air Effects. Each time a guy comes out looking like a sweaty John Goodman, offer the line-up waiting to use the facilities the service of “freshening up” the room, using the whiff of whatever demons the guy left in there as an incentive. $3 each couple of sprays, all major credit cards accepted. People doing the I’m-trying-not-to-pee-on-myself legs-crossed dance will jump at this opportunity.

The Flight Re-route Charge: Let’s say, airlines, you’re operating a cross-Canada flight from Montreal to Vancouver and you run into a rough storm near the Great Lakes and need to switch paths to Chicago to offload passengers. Well, who’s going to pay for that? That’s an extra few hundred kilometres of airtime, plus the risk of having to provide connecting flights for the entire plane. Where’s the possibility for profit margin there? Why not charge five cents per kilometre of the re-route trip to the customer’s Visa after the flight? That’s about $53 per passenger you could be cashing in on from, say, Thunder Bay to the Windy City. And the beauty is that the charges come retroactively, weeks after the trip. What are they going to do, call in to complain? Go ahead! WestJet’s customer service hotline is now available to all Canadians at the low, low price of $0.99 / minute.

The Sober Pilot Tariff: Everyone knows good help is hard to find these days, and most are aware at what a gruelling job an airline pilot can be, too. That pilots like to have a drink or two, by stereotype, to take the edge off before a flight should come as no surprise. Only, problem is, passengers have this weird thing that they want to reach their destination safely and don’t want a huge waft of Tanqueray Tom Collins emanating from up in the cockpit. Whatever. Come on, guys, this is 2009 – this shouldn’t be your problem! For $7.99 per ticket (buried in the fine print, of course), we can give a retired police officer 20 bucks to shadow our pilots for the last two hours before they’re set to report to the airport. This way, we can guarantee they’ll be at (or somewhere around) the legal blood-alcohol limit as they enter the terminal. And, because we won’t follow them after that, they can even polish off a rye-and-ginger in the airport bar if they so choose. Hey, we can be on top of these guys 24/7. As an added bonus, you can now advertise “the safest service in the sky” or some other kind of preposterous rhetoric fliers will eat right up. If that’s not worth another $40 each ticket, up front, I don’t know what is.

Again, airlines, these are only a few ideas. I think I’m onto something here and I'm sure these proposals are right up your alley. Because I’m one of them, I know what the customers don’t want but will still pay for because of the insane market control you guys carry. They have no choice, believe me. I have more infuriating strategies, too.

Please leave your contract offer in the comments section below. Thanks for your time.

(Any other suggestions out there?)



Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...