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KAI RYSSDAL: Here's the most recent glimpse of how bad it is in the airline industry. As of today US Airways wants its passengers to pay for in-flight beverages. So that'll be 2 bucks, please, for everything from soft drinks to bottled water. Coffee's only a buck.
But notice how we carefully phrased that: US Airways wants you to pay. You might think your options are limited, locked in an aluminum tube at 35,000 feet. But there's a loophole. Here's Marketplace's Bob Moon.
BOB MOON: United Airlines once ran a commercial suggesting the idea of in-flight beverages was as old as the two-seater.
UNITED AIRLINES COMMERCIAL: Let me get this straight. You want coffee? On the plane? While we're in the air? . . . . [music] You're flying the friendly skies.
Now, the industry isn't laughing anymore, though, about the millions spent every year on thirsty passengers. And even though US Airways is the only major carrier charging for beverages so far, you can wager that its rivals are watching carefully to see how it's accepted.
Mike Flores speaks for the US Airways chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants. He complains the carrier is already making vague exceptions for free drinks, if someone needs water to take a pill, or maybe orange juice because they have low blood sugar, or just feel dehydrated. And he fears this is where many passengers sick of being nickle-and-dimed will draw an angry line:
MIKE FLORES: If we see that confrontational behavior, you know, we are going to give away free drinks.
An industry consultant on this kind of a la carte pricing, Jay Sorensen, says bad blood between US Airways and its flight attendants union could doom this new policy:
JAY SORENSEN: I mean, if you're creating an environment in which you're motivating passengers to become unruly to get a free drink, don't be surprised if that happens.
Sorensen says beverage fees have been accepted in Europe, and with operating costs so high, many carriers here may have no other choice.
I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.