Ticket Jackets Becoming an Endangered Species

Posted: Nov 24, 2008 12:01 AM
Ticket Jackets Becoming an Endangered Species

Airline buffs have a new collectible: the ticket jacket. I haven't surveyed every carrier, but if you fly economy class at United Airlines the ticket jacket is a vanishing breed.

Now you're not going to miss the ads and the tiny print that spells out the airline's "rules of carriage." But they are handy pocket or purse organizers for boarding passes, receipts for the pesky extra baggage fee and the luggage claim check, among other things.

A United check-in agent recently handed me a fistful of papers -- after I checked in my garment bag and fetched my own boarding pass. Worse yet, at Boston, there were only a few check-in counters were open, a bunch of guys standing around at the separate baggage check-in counters said I had to get a boarding pass before they could help me. To his credit, a floor supervisor apologized for the short staffing and confusion.

But I digress. How many times have you frantically rooted through your coat and pants pockets, overcoat pockets, briefcase, purse or carry-on bag trying to find your boarding passes or other flight documents at the last minute to get on the plane? And that was with a ticket jacket.

Try searching for that boarding pass without a ticket jacket amid a stack of files in your computer case or pockets jammed with papers, itineraries, receipts, cell phone, BlackBerry, directions to your first appointment and other notes scribbled along the way.

The new breed of discount airlines gives you a boarding pass that looks like a cash register tape or a single card with all the information you need. You don't expect more.

But giant United, which levies top fares and has slashed so many passenger conveniences, employee salaries and benefits (while heaping bonuses on its CEO and top brass) has found another way to cut costs and take away the most basic "perk" -- a piece of paper folded to hold your tickets.

It's a slap in the face to business travelers who, like me, are disorganized, absent-minded and usually anxiously stuck in traffic on the way to the airport. Or the real road warriors who may travel three weeks straight and carry a sheath of airline itineraries, hotel and car rental reservations and other documents, including, sometimes, their passport.

Not all of us have those cool, black-leather, James Bond-like organizers because most are too long to fit in a pocket.

Lest you think this is much ado about nothing, United is only eliminating the humble ticket jacket for those who fly economy class; business and first-class passengers are jacketed, no questions asked.

However, even if you're in steerage, you can make a fuss over it by saying, "Excuse me, but where is the ticket jacket to hold all these papers?" You'll get one, albeit grudgingly. I did it and it works.

Just consider the inane possibilities the disappearing ticket jacket could unleash. United and other airlines might start charging economy passengers for a single piece of fold-over paper with a pocket. A dime, a buck, 250 frequent flyer miles? Or United's elite-level MileagePlus members, 1K members and Global Services passengers would get it free as a new benefit.

In these hardscrabble times, as companies tighten their travel policies, the traveler who pays for his or her own upgrades might be seated in front of the curtain. But more of us will be in economy.

If you thirst for a libation to de-stress, be ready to pony up 17 percent more for a cheap screw-top wine, a beer or a miniature bottle of hooch. United has boosted its alcoholic drinks by $1 -- from $5 to $6.

It could be worse. US Airways is gouging passengers $7 for a hard drink on most of its routes and $2 for a soft drink or a small bottle of water. Pocket flasks, anyone? Unless they're a small goatskin bag you'll never get them past security.