Fewer flights, higher fares give biz travelers plenty to rant about
Longer days, emptier wallets and crowded planes plague the frequent business traveler.
The New York Times
Don't get Mark Marmor started about the headaches inherent in being a frequent business traveler these days.
Oh, never mind. Let's get him started.
"I was up at 3 in the morning the other day because the SuperShuttle was coming for me at 3:30 for a 6 o'clock flight, and that's the only way you can do it now, and still arrive in time to have part of a workday," said Marmor, who lives in Lower Manhattan. He's president of Omega Elite, a company that sells movie memorabilia at collectors' trade shows around the world.
"Of course, if you're connecting — which you usually are — forget it. You've probably lost the whole day."
He was describing what so many of us know well: the behavioral changes imposed by shrinking airline schedules that, for example, often require getting up at what used to be called an ungodly hour to catch a departing flight and be in time for a connection or, as is often the case, multiple connections.
This summer, I've been writing a lot about declining air service, diminishing choices, rising fares and fees, and the increase in annoyances like the musical chairs games that can ensue on packed flights. There has been a large volume of reader response on these subjects, and I'll get to that response in another column.
But for now, let me just hand the loudspeaker to the chatty Marmor, who has been on the road now for 38 years, schlepping big suitcases full of movie and television photos to trade shows. Let me introduce him as a kind of business traveler Everyman.
Here he is on the rising costs of travel: "There are plenty of us in business who are — and there is no polite way to say this — cheapskates," he said. "I'm always checking for a low fare. But now it's like, oh, look, it's advertised as $358 round trip! Then you go through the listings, and they're all $600 flights. The $358 one? Well that's no longer available, and it was two connections anyway. Forget it!"
International flying, Marmor said, also presents issues. "I just did a trip to Germany. A ticket I once paid 400 bucks for, I just paid $1,100, and that was booking two months in advance," he said. "Actually, when you see how it's broken down, the actual fare was like $350 and the rest was all taxes, fees and surcharges."
He said he was planning another trip soon to a collectors' show in Bonn, Germany. Fares from New York to Cologne-Bonn Airport have increased so much, Marmor said, that he is instead considering leaving early, flying to Düsseldorf International Airport, and taking a train the 36 miles to Bonn.
He's right, incidentally. International fares are now as baffling to figure out as the domestic ones. On Monday, the cheapest round-trip fare I found from Kennedy International Airport to Cologne for travel in mid-September was $1,043.70 on Delta Air Lines. But the breakdown showed that while the airfare itself was a mere $381, another $662 was assessed for fees, surcharges and taxes.
By contrast, a round-trip flight from Kennedy to Düsseldorf was $675.80 on United for the same days — $472 in base fare and $293 in fees, taxes and surcharges.
(By the way, if you are flying internationally this fall, watch for sales later this month, especially on trans-Atlantic routes. Demand has been softening, and "worldwide fares continue to show weakness," the International Air Transport Association said recently.)
For someone like Marmor, who has to travel with at least two suitcases of merchandise, figuring out the price of flying is complicated by the extra fees almost all airlines charge for things like checked bags.
He says he has permanent Gold elite status on American Airlines, a reward for having logged 1.7 million miles on that carrier. That status gives him two free checked bags. But if American's schedule or fares don't meet his needs, it becomes a matter of "constantly jiggering" the data on available schedules, fares and fees for checked bags and other things on competing airlines.
In those instances, he said, "Do you think I have a clue as to what I end up actually paying for a trip? Hah!"
Entrepreneurs who manage their own travel budgets and corporate travel executives who manage travel spending for thousands of executives, are all sounding the same refrain these days. I'll pass the microphone again to Marmor.
"Airlines need to be a lot more clear with me about this: What is the price — the actual price — of my ticket?" he said. In recent years, he added, "My air travel and hotel costs have doubled. Oh, OK, you can find a cheaper hotel, but it's 12 miles from the hotel where your event is, and that means taking cabs, which have also doubled."
Anything else? Oh, lots. What about the annoyances caused by those couples who get on airplanes with seat assignments in different rows and "have that sense of entitlement" that they should be accommodated by making single travelers like Marmor move to another seat, sometimes insisting that he move from an aisle seat to "a middle seat eight rows back."
"Why can't they plan ahead and get seats assigned together if they can't be apart for three hours?" he said.
But don't get him started.