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Despite consumer gripes, air fares aren't as high as they could be

Q: Why is the public complaining about the high cost of airfares? Back in 1970 I flew from Los Angeles to Minneapolis round-trip.

I remember well that back then the lowest fare was $350. You can still fly that route when there's a sale for $250 or so round-trip.

My point is that airfares, adjusted for inflation, are very cheap. So why do people keep on griping about the high cost of air travel?

A: I agree that if airfares increased at the same rate as other "commodities" (gas prices, food, postage stamps) then they'd be a lot higher now. Some people argue that other consumer items (televisions, for example) have come down in price over the years, even adjusted for inflation, but I'm not sure that's a fair comparison.

I think consumers have been conditioned to expect low airfares thanks to an airline industry that has been chronically over-supplied for many years. It may be time to readjust our thinking as to the value of air travel.

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Q: My family of three needs to fly from Baton Rouge to Richmond. In order to fly as cheaply as possible, I bought three one-way fares from Atlanta to Richmond for just $60 each when that route was on sale, but now I need to find a cheap fare from Baton Rouge to Atlanta in order to connect to the Atlanta-Richmond flight. I'm finding that round-trip fares from Baton Rouge to Atlanta are cheaper than one-way fares, so I thought we'd buy a round-trip and not use the return flight. (I've found another flight that departs a half-hour after we arrive in Atlanta. Is that cutting it too close?) However, I called Delta and was told we would be charged $150 per ticket as a change fee for a flight we didn't take. Can Delta do that?

A: Whoa. First of all, yes, you're playing with fire here if you book a 30-minute connection in Atlanta. Atlanta Hartsfield is a huge airport and prone to delays. And if you miss your flight, even if there are seats on the next flight out, you'll pay a last-minute "walkup" fare which will be sky high. Delta's rules prohibit "throwaway ticketing," which is what you're proposing by not using the return flight of a round-trip ticket. Will they somehow charge you $150 as a change fee? I'm not sure how they'd do that successfully. I somehow doubt they have a legal recourse to go after an individual consumer, but the trip that you're proposing doesn't make any sense and I would seriously rethink your travel plans.

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