First it was the free meals. Then the pillows.
And now, looking to cut costs further, one airline is experimenting with dropping the last little luxury those sitting in coach have to look forward to: complimentary soda and pretzels.
American Eagle said Thursday it will charge $1 each for a can of soda and a bag of cashews on flights into and out of Los Angeles next month.
"It's a test to see whether customers value the dollar to buy a can of soda or a can of juice," said spokesman David Jackson. Flight attendants will still serve free coffee or water.
Passenger reaction will determine whether sales are expanded beyond the California experiment, Jackson said.
American Eagle, like American Airlines, is a subsidiary of AMR Corp.
American Airlines gained notoriety earlier this year when it removed pillows from aircraft, a move that saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in cleaning costs. Although American was the butt of jokes on Leno and Letterman, several other airlines quietly followed suit after the furor died down.
American Eagle also will experiment with selling a blanket and pillow set for $5 that passengers can keep. Air Canada recently announced a similar move.
"It's of a higher quality than what you'd typically consider in an airline blanket and pillow," Jackson said.
Los Angeles was chosen as the test site because it has primarily local traffic. American Eagle serves six California cities from Los Angeles International Airport.
During the past several years airlines increasingly have tried to pass on costs to customers that were once considered part of buying an airline ticket. Free copies of general interest magazines have disappeared from most flights. Meals have been replaced with $5 snack boxes of prepackaged food. Some airlines' skycaps now charge $2 a bag and carriers strictly enforce rules charging extra for overweight luggage.
This month United Airlines unveiled an in-flight store on some of its Ted flights, which mainly serve vacation destinations. Flight attendants have a cart filled with gifts, toys and other items. Priced between $5 and $25, items can be purchased during the flight.
Airlines have looked for ways to increase revenue as their bottom lines have been hurt by sharply higher fuel prices and stiff competition from low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways. Discount airlines make it difficult for other carriers to raise ticket prices, and in many cases have forced rivals to lower prices or lose business.
American's research shows that customers increasingly accept that they get what they pay for, Jackson said.
"They understand that the price they pay for a ticket is the cost of transporting them from one city to another," he said.
Fees have quickly become a cost of traveling, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Assn.
"To some degree, it's more fair," he said. "If you put it all in the fare, you're paying for it whether you use it or not."
If the practice of charging for soft drinks and nuts is eventually expanded to other flights, it is unlikely that the charges would be a primary consideration for many when booking their ticket, Stempler said.
"People pick flights based upon price and convenience," he said. "Those are the top criteria - airport and time of day. A dollar for a can of soda is unlikely to change that."