airport payphone call pricing

airport payphone

A few payphones still exist in U.S. airports.  Here are call prices listed on an airport payphone booth recently encountered in a West Coast airport:

  • local call, coin payment: 50 cents for an unlimited number of call minutes
  • local call, credit or debit card payment: $4.09 connection charge, $1.69 per minute, 3 minute minimum charge
  • intrastate long-distance call, coin payment: “$1.00 for 4 minute maximum”
  • intrastate long-distance call, credit or debit card payment: $4.09 connection charge, $1.69 per minute, 3 minute minimum charge
  • interstate long-distance call, coin payment: “$1.00 for 4 minute maximum”
  • interstate long-distance call, credit or debit card payment: $8.46 connection charge, $1.84 per minute, 3 minute minimum charge

Some curious aspects of these prices:

  1. The telephone call distance price gradient differs by payment method.   Intrastate and interstate long-distance calls have the same price when paid by coin, but quite different prices when paid by credit or debit card.  Does the distance component of call cost vary by payment type?
  2. The duration of intrastate and interstate long-distance coin calls apparently are capped at 4 minutes, but local calls can be of unlimited duration. Why is the duration of long-distance coin calls capped, but not the duration of other calls?
  3. Credit and debit card calls are priced the same.  Debit cards are usually thought to have lower payment risk than credit cards.  Why isn’t credit cost/risk reflected in prices?
  4. The above rates imply that the price of a 4-minute interstate long-distance call, paid by debit card, is $15.82.  The price for a 10-minute call is $26.86.  Those are very high prices relative to average long-distance calling prices.
  5. The quoted credit or debit card call prices aren’t committed prices.  The price-information poster declares, “Calling rates above are for comparison purposes only.  Rates subject to change without prior notice.”
  6. The quoted credit or debit card call prices aren’t inclusive prices.   Those prices are listed with an asterisk.  The price-information poster declares, “Taxes, regulatory fees also apply.”  Such fees amounted to about 13% of a Verizon local telephone service bill in 2010.

The placard on the airport payphone both also listed a number to call to get a “free rate quote.”  I called that toll-free number and navigated through several voice menus. The “free rate quote” service required me to enter my credit card number to get the price of a credit-card-paid call.  Because I didn’t trust the operator not to bill my credit card for some surprising reason, I didn’t get the price for a credit (or debit) call from the “free rate quote” telephone number.

The “free rate quote” telephone number did provide, without requiring my credit card number, the price of a collect call.  I had to provide the specific telephone number to which the collect call was to be directed.  That’s somewhat odd, since telephone call prices typically aren’t differentiated by specific calling number.   A test with a number on the East Coast produced a price quote of $16.46 for a three-minute collect call, with $1.49 for each additional minute.  Those rates don’t include taxes and fees, which were not priced.

At least with respect to this airport payphone, call prices appear to be very high relative to typical telephone call prices.  Moreover, getting accurate information on exactly what prices this airport payphone charges wasn’t easy.

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