That's the intriguing question Santa Monica resident Peter Szabo faced during the holidays when he attempted to use just half of a $435 round-trip ticket that he'd purchased three months earlier from US Airways.
The carrier said Szabo, 32, would need to pay hundreds of dollars more to make just a single leg of the journey.
"Basically, they wanted me to pay an additional $350 to use only half of what I already owned," Szabo told me. "I can't think of another scenario in another industry that would compare. If I buy two tickets to the symphony or a Clippers game but only use one, I don't incur an extra charge."
It's one I've wondered about for a long time. Any other ticket you buy - whether it's for a movie, a sports event, a play, a train - you can give to someone else to use or even sell if you can't use it.
But you're stuck with airline tickets. Any changes you want to make, add an extra fee and possible even another fare. To a certain extent, they could argue that they price tickets to encourage people to buy early, but you could buy early and then find out the fare went down. And they used to sell bulk tickets to travel agents at lower rates and they could then resell them. (I don't know if they still do that now that they've tried to cut out travel agents.)
The LA Times article goes through the craziness of the airline ticket policies and is worth reading.
Meanwhile, it reminds me that we really need an effective organization that represents the needs of airline travelers. I'm sure a good one would get lots of members. Some organizations that represent airline passengers:
Flyers Rights - An organization that, according to its website, was founded in 2006 by Hanni to get the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights passed. The website looks good and has interesting information, but also has gaps - not all pages have tabs to get back to other pages. Travel Weekly published a critical article about Flyers Rights, but Travel Weekly is a travel industry website, so they have a vested interest in not having strong consumer groups.
The Association for Airline Passenger Rights began in 2008.
The purpose of the AAPR shall be to educate policymakers on travel-related information important to airline passengers, improve accessibility for passengers with disabilities and protect the consumer rights and responsibilities of airline passengers. Prior to AAPR, every aspect of the airline industry was represented in Washington, DC except for the people who pay the bills - airline passengers! The airlines, pilots, flight attendants, service crews, and air traffic controllers are all represented, and now AAPR will level the playing field by representing the interests of airline passengers.
The US Department of Transportation has a list of publications for airline passengers online.
The Airline Travelers' Association website is sparse and isn't accepting new members, so I wasn't even going to mention it, until I found this blog post that even questions whether it really represents passengers or airlines.