Airlines

Cashless Payments on Flights Are Discriminatory?

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr
Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Someone’s rather upset about Delta (and other airlines) going to contactless/cashless payment systems.

Frommer’s Jason Cochran explains, “Customers will be able to use their mobile devices or credit cards enabled with tap-to-pay features, reducing touch points and speeding up transactions.” He’s referencing Delta’s announcement last month that the airline “is investing in touchless features throughout the travel journey and testing digital seatback menus on select international flights.”

The post is tagged “Inequality” as Mr. Cochran connects the issue to race and social issues. He also links to this op-ed piece.

“I don’t know who needs to hear this—apparently the airlines do—but not everyone has a credit card.”

Sigh.

Now, many airlines went cashless a long time ago — something Mr. Cochran acknowledges. Delta did so in 2012.

However, being offended by everything became fashionable only within the past five or six years. So maybe that’s the rub.

(And, no, I’m not writing this post as some advertisement for people to sign up for credit cards through my affiliate links.)

People are “Forced” to Use Credit Cards?!

“In the precise moment Delta decided to go all in on contactless transactions, a significant chunk of Americans are still locked out of the credit card market,” Mr. Cochran writes. “Worse, many of those who do possess cards have been hurtling headlong into a personal debt crisis… Is this really the time to double down on the forced use of credit cards aboard planes?”

I truly appreciate those who look out for fellow consumers. But I’m curious: who is being forced to use credit cards during flights? Are passengers required to order premium snacks or beverages? Must they buy $2 earphones or risk getting kicked off a flight?

Perhaps Mr. Cochran is better off leveling some of his gripes toward certain “budget airlines” that nickel and dime people for anything and everything possible.

(And while we’re at it, how about he have a chat with Major League Baseball? According to the Los Angeles Times, “all in-stadium transactions for food, beverage and merchandise will be cashless.” I haven’t seen his post yet about that. Let’s pray for those people forced to buy $16 beers and $45 t-shirts.)

“Good credit remains a privilege of those who are wealthy enough or well-positioned enough to qualify,” he says. Okay. That’s a bit dramatic, but I agree with the general idea: good credit can be difficult for some people to attain. There are also secured credit cards people can get — and start building credit that way.

What About Debit Cards?

Here’s something hardly shocking: lots of people have debit cards.

Someone familiar with Delta’s contactless payment system told me any card with a Visa, Mastercard, or American Express logo is accepted. That includes debit cards. (Heck, even Dave “Credit Cards are a Joke” Ramsey has a debit card.)

Passengers don’t need credit cards to buy stuff on Delta flights. A debit card should do just fine.

Some folks don’t have traditional checking or savings accounts — something Mr. Cochran points out. But several money management and payment services offer debit cards. Think PayPal. Or Sofi. The list goes on and on.

A friend who lost his job because of the COVID-19 pandemic shared this image of how California disburses his unemployment assistance payments:

A California EDD debit card used to pay unemployment.

Oh, look. It’s a debit card. So if (and when) my friend can afford to fly again, he can use that when he’s “forced” to buy something on a plane.

I know some people’s airfares are funded by others — perhaps friends, family members, or other acquaintances. (My parents paid for a few trips with miles or cash when I couldn’t afford it.) The recipients of those kind gestures may need to check bags — and several dozen Delta airports no longer accept cash. So if you’re carrying paper money — and no other form of payment — you have to buy a pre-paid debit card (which, of course, comes with a fee). And then use that for your checked bag or other transactions.

Or maybe ask the kind person who paid for your trip to pre-pay your baggage and you’ll somehow repay the favor.

Many of us are fortunate to afford travel — and much more. We have money to at least get by, if not live comfortably. We carry plastic (or metal) cards on which we can charge all sorts of expenses. Not everyone is as lucky. I understand that — and go to bed every night thankful that I have a safe place to live and food to eat.

But the world was going “cashless”/“touchless” for a while. None of this should be a surprise — especially in light of a global pandemic.

I understand a few people who find themselves on commercial flights yet somehow can’t get a PayPal account, “real” bank account, or a prepaid debit card. Life’s not fair.

This blog criticizes (and praises) airlines when necessary. Is their move to touchless payments malicious and intentionally discriminatory? I don’t think so. Sure, it’s another way for airlines to advertise cobranded credit cards — but they’ve been doing that forever. Plus, many consumers seem shaken by COVID and anything virus-related. So moving to touchless/non-contact payment methods may help restore some confidence.

Featured image: ©iStock.com/Prostock-Studio

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

11 Comments

  1. I dont think airlines intended this to be discriminatory but there are going to be people affected by this. One straightforward example I can think of are people who coming from countries where cash is more common and cards a rarity, might find themselves on a trascon connecting flight having to go 5+ hours without being able to buy on board food especially if they did not get a chance to buy food between connections. Makes me think of when I used to travel as an unaccompanied minor and only had cash and no bank account. Also, many international travelers who do have cards carry them as emergency only due to foreign transaction fees. Again, probably a small amount of people but as many airlines are in the business of flying internationally, this does raise an issue.

    • I agree–an action does not have to be taken to be intentionally disriminatory to actually have that effect in practice. I believe MA, NJ, and CT actually prohibit businesses from banning cash as well as local regulations in Philadelphia, SF, and NYC. This is a serious issue and not one of simply taking umbrage.

  2. Wow, the privilege blinders are strong here

    Majority of this world is unbanked and cashless is discriminatory unless airlines offer cash to gc at airports

  3. AlohaDaveKennedy Reply

    So Delta’s cashless actions are promoting inequality and racist? And CNN insiders have spilled the beans on CNN being a propaganda machine bent on distorting or inventing news? No wonder Atlanta struck out with hosting the All Star game. All this talk that moving the Game from Atlanta because of some voting law was just a smokescreen for the rubes.

  4. Delta is RACIST!!!! They even asked me to produce ID when I checked a bag.

    • Well, I hope you go with your friend and buy them a drink because their debit card doesn’t appear to have NFC. It’s the little sideways wifi looking symbol. I’m assuming when the person told you ‘any’ Visa, MasterCard, or Amex that meant any card that has the ability to make contactless payments since they specify “tap-to-pay” and “contactless payments” in the press release. Also, since we are talking about cash it should be pointed out it cost money to add cash to the PayPal card. Hopefully, they live in a place that has a CVS. I don’t know if Sofi has a way to add cash to their accounts.

      The irony of this whole article is that it comes across as aggrieved and offended, by someone being offended, while seemingly criticizing the other author for being “offended.”

      He also never said or implied that it was intentionally malicious or intentionally racist. However, the statistics he cited imply that the greatest number of people affected by the change will be black and Latino. It’s hard to argue there won’t be anyone affected since there is apparently a big enough market or demand for prepaid cards to pay for flights and whatnot some airports have kiosk that sell them.

      You essentially seem to be more bothered by the author criticizing a billion dollar company for adding one more burden/inconvenience/tax, even if small, to the poor than you are bothered by the effect it will have on some of the poor. Even more egregious to you is that the author pointed out the majority of those people are going to be black and Latino. And it does bother you, otherwise you wouldn’t have done any research and then wrote an entire article about it.

      • Sorry you were so offended. (Also, I believe you were replying the me, this post’s author, not commenter “CHRIS.”)

        “Even more egregious to you is that the author pointed out the majority of those people are going to be black and Latino.”

        Like other decent people, I am bothered by inequality. (I’m also bothered by people who automatically think others are racists. But those folks seem to be projecting — but that’s another topic, another time, and not necessarily on this blog.) But Mr. Cochran seemed very eager to inject race into a discussion about airlines and credit cards. He didn’t consider alternatives like debit cards.

        “Otherwise you wouldn’t have done any research and then wrote {SIC} an entire article about it.”
        I like to research things. What can I say?

        Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. I think it may have to do with cash disappearing – even airline employees can be dishonest -lol.

  6. Just curious: How did he pay for his airline ticket?
    Yes it’s possible to buy a ticket for cash, but extremely rare and it raises red flags all over the place. Buy a gift card and get over it.

  7. John Aprilson Reply

    Maybe we should start discriminating against those who make life more difficult for western people. When one groups is 13% of the population and commits 52% of the violent crimes/53% of the homicides/breeds poverty/looks ugly on average/has a low average IQ/pushes a low rap culture/can’t invent the wheel with picture directions, we shouldn’t want these simians to fly/live in our neighborhoods/vote/forced their way into our schools/corrupt our kids.

  8. Barry Graham Reply

    Luddites are not new. We should not be surprised that some people are so backward looking.

Write A Comment

BoardingArea