Cabins Kick Cash to the Curb

by  Suzanne Steinert | Dec 10, 2009
Plane in the sky
Plane in the sky / undefinedundefined/iStock

Now charging fees for every conceivable in-flight comfort, major airlines are playing follow the leader yet again by prohibiting cash as a means of payment on board. Over the last year, the lengthy list of carriers with plastic-only policies or “cashless cabins” has grown to include American Airlines, Southwest, Alaska, Frontier, jetBlue, AirTran, Virgin America, and Midwest. Last week, Delta (for which credit purchases weren’t even possible a year ago), Northwest, and Continental announced they, too, have made the switch.

For the most part, the no-cash policies are not absolute. Regional offshoot carriers, like Delta Connection and United Express flights, still only except cash (though Continental’s Express and Connection flights will be credit-only come early 2010). Excepting Continental (whose policy applies to all mainline flights), the policies for the airlines mentioned above are, as of now, limited only to flights within the U.S. and greater North America (Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean) – so if you’re traveling waaay overseas, your greenbacks are typically still golden. Even Continental’s policy isn’t entirely all-encompassing, as its China routes are an exception to the credit-only rule. Carriers also still allow cash for on-board duty-free purchases of magazines, cosmetics, and the like.

While a few honorary holdouts are bucking the credit-only trend (US Airways, for instance, has accepted both cash and credit on most mainline flights since January), credit-only cabins in this neck of the world are appearing to become the norm. It seems to be a good idea: flight attendants, who can simply swipe a card through handheld scanning devices instead of digging in their pockets for lumps of change, favor the switch. All-in-all, passengers seem to approve as well. However, the new policies do bring their own set of sticky situations on board. What if a card-less minor is traveling alone and wants to buy a bag of pretzels? Turns out there’s no harm trying to persuade an attendant to accept cash, but if that doesn’t work, better have plastic in your pocket or you’re outta luck.

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