ATLANTA ( TheStreet) -- The airline industry is the business the media most loves to pick on. Since the days of the Wright Brothers, the U.S. airline industry has lost money. US Airways ( LCC) CEO Doug Parker maintains that it is counter to our national interest to have such an important segment of our transportation infrastructure be so economically fragile. Now, the industry has finally appeared to have stumbled onto a way to make money, charging passengers fees for the services they use, and more closely aligning capacity with demand. Yet the media screams at each charge the industry implements, at times seeming to imply that airline service should should be provided free of charge.
The latest example of snarky airline reporting is a recent round of stories on a new Delta ( DAL) initiative that introduces a premium economy section on long-haul international flights. It represents an effort to have Delta service conform to the service on European joint venture partners Air France-KLM and Alitalia. The new cabin section -- its name, Economy Comfort, is less than inspirational -- includes a fee for seats that have 50% more recline than standard international economy class seats. The fee ranges from $80 to $160, depending on the passenger's travel frequency pattern. The fee also covers extra leg room, early boarding and free booze. The service was introduced Feb. 7. However, a March 7 Wall Street Journal story on airline fees mentioned it, prompting a second round of stories. Among the headlines visible that day on Google ( GOOG) News were these: "Airlines to Charge for Reclining Seats?," "Airlines to Load on More Fees" and "Airlines are charging for creature comforts to garner more revenues." Additionally, a radio report included this bit of banter: Host one: "How about another airline fee, one for a seat that reclines more?" Host two: "No, they're going to charge you for that?" Host one: "Get ready." Why is the media so overwhelmingly snarky about airlines? Probably it's because in the fierce competition for audience, editors throughout America have decided that "we share your pain" reporting is the way to attract listeners, readers, viewers and other assorted "eyeballs." Really, "eyeballs." This is how today's media executives talk. US Airways began charging for drinks in 2008, an effort that was
abandoned after seven months due to hysterical reporting and lack of competitive response. It remains a mystery why airlines, which pay a high cost for fuel enabling them to, among other things, carry cans of soda around at 30,000 feet, remain the only business expected to distribute drinks free. Amtrak charges for soda. Sports teams charge for soda. Hotels charge for soda. Hospitals charge for soda. Restaurants charge for soda. Movie theaters charge for soda. Ever eyeball a story on that? -- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed