June 5, 2016 11:00 am
Updated: June 5, 2016 11:09 am

As air tickets get cheaper, carriers pare costs. What’s fair?

WATCH: Can’t believe you got that incredible flight deal for your summer vacation? Unfortunately, something’s gotta give for those low airfares.

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Earlier this year, Westjet would fly you from Vancouver to London, England, high over the Arctic, across a continent and an ocean, for $300.

That’s four cents a kilometre.

The catch, so far as it went, was that if you wanted to be fed on the 7,607-kilometre flight, you’d have to brown-bag, buy something at the airport or go hungry. Westjet didn’t have a meal with your name on it.

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(Don’t like airline food? Well, open up the refrigerator before you leave home and solve the problem yourself.)

Is that fair?

In effect, Westjet said: “We’re a discount carrier. What did you expect?”

“If you want to pay $800 or $1,000 to fly to London with our competitors, you will get a seat in their economy cabin and a hot meal,” airline spokesperson Robert Palmer told Global News. “If you want to pay half of that on WestJet – less on some dates – you’ll get the same type of seat – with power outlets – in the same type of cabin but without the meal.”

“Actually not being able to eat or not eating for a long flight, that is already getting into the health questions,” airline industry critic Gabor Lukacs said.

Winnipeg-based discount carrier NewLeaf had a bumpy takeoff  – it tried to launch in January, but was held up by regulatory issues.

The startup offered fares as low as $89 under the slogan:“Your fare gets you the two essentials: a seat and a seatbelt. The rest is up to you.”

They really meant it. Passengers who are still grumpy about fees for checked baggage would be still grumpier when they found that NewLeaf charged for carry-on bags – between $25 and $80.

Printing a boarding pass at home is a good idea – the airline plans to charge a $10 boarding pass printing fee.

Now, having frugally packed your own lunch and printed your own boarding pass, there’s a question of where to put them, since you’re also frugally bringing no luggage at all, not even a a carry-on bag.

Perhaps you could imitate this man, who avoided baggage fees on a London-Reykjavik flight by wearing all the clothes he would have packed, in layers.

It’s a look:

You can save money by planning ahead, but the next step is a little harder – don’t be tall. The legroom between airline seats has shrunk and shrunk (it’s not just your imagination) and the bigger you are the more excruciating it can be.

Victoria resident David Savage is 6’2″. He spent an Air Canada flight from Chile crammed against the seat in front of him, unable to stand up because of turbulence. After he came home he was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, a potentially fatal condition that can be caused by sitting in one position for too long.

For squashed passengers, having the person in front lean their seat back can be the last straw.

American businessman James Beach, on the last leg of a marathon Moscow-New York-Denver flight, was trying to use his laptop when the person in front reclined her seat. Beach had come prepared for just this situation with a Knee Defender, a gadget that stops the seat in front from reclining, and he put it into action.

(Beach is 6’1″.)

The resulting confrontation got the flight diverted to Chicago; Beach and his antagonist were both questioned by police.

The airlines were quick to ban Knee Defenders, which the London Telegraph called “perhaps the most passive-aggressive product ever invented.”

There’s no reason to expect things to get better.

Airbus recently filed a patent application for a passenger aircraft design which would cram more people in by stacking them. Hopefully this would knock a few more dollars off the fare.

Watch: Yuliya Talmazan has details of the unusual design submitted by Airbus

There was an era when air travel was glamorous. (It was also very expensive – “the jet set” is still an expression in use, though the modern jet set is crammed into a metal container like anchovies.)

In 1955, a TWA flight from New York to Rome cost US$360 one-way, which is US$3,213 now. At the time, a round-trip ticket for one person to Rome from New York would have cost about 15 per cent of the median U.S. family income.

At that price, of course, the airlines had to sell comfort. No Knee Defender for this gentleman:

That was a long time ago. Now, it’s neither.

Have we made our peace with the results? No, not at all.

But to a large extent you get what you pay for, and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is, in some sense.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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