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RISMEDIA, July 14, 2011—(MCT)—Q: I’ve been trying to find a good fare to Europe, but I’m not finding anything for less than $1,000, and that’s without taxes and fees. It seems the more I pay in fees, the less I get. I have to find and book my flights myself, assign myself a seat, check myself in and print my boarding pass. I pay extra for food, drink and entertainment. What can we do to stop this?
—L. Bolard, Brea, Calif.

A: I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you not to go anywhere you can’t get to by driving. Short of that, I think it’s a matter of changing our expectations.

On my first airline flight—I must have been about 6, so that’s been a few, um, decades—I was treated like a princess. We were in first class, the flight attendants fell all over us and it was cool, even though my mother made me wear a dress.

The last time I flew, which was about a month ago, I was in coach, I probably wore jeans, and nobody treated me like a princess.

There are two takeaways here: 1. Nowadays, you have to pay to be treated like a princess. 2. Times have changed and they probably aren’t changing back.

If you’re willing to fork it over, you can fly to London on Virgin Atlantic, leaving Aug. 6 and returning Aug. 14, in what Virgin calls Upper Class flexible. The tab: $13,807, including taxes and fees. For this you get nice meals, a bed that lies flat, drinks, a TV, no luggage fees and probably some respect. You wouldn’t have to book this yourself: A travel agent could do it for you. Note that you could book a coach seat yourself for about $11,500 less.

Which leads to point 2: We are in the age of do-it-yourself-ism. When you see the Redbox DVD rentals or the Best Buy “buy an iPod” in airport vending machines, you realize that automated retail is here to stay. Labor is a huge cost for any employer; self-service or automated is one way to deal with that, plus machines generally don’t talk back, take sick days or steal from their employers.

There are some downsides, of course. “Potentially a retailer can’t upsell or cross-sell you something,” says Patrick Gray, president of Prevoyance Group, a technology strategy consulting business.

But people like and trust technology. “Consumers feel that technology is more informed than salespeople,” says Kit Yarrow, chairman of the department of psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

We may not value that relationship with a salesperson or check-in agent, but therein lays an issue, she says. People “are potentially missing out on the most important thing in the world—that is, to be seen and loved.”

Will airlines continue to charge for luggage and meals and such? Yes. Last year they collected $3.4 billion just for luggage. Will airlines and other travel-related businesses continue to ask us to do jobs that used to be performed by their staff? Yes, because that reduces their costs. And will we ever be treated like princesses again? Yes, but we’ll have to pay for it. Otherwise, we’ll need to turn elsewhere to be seen and loved.

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(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.