Airlines Continue to Goose the Flying Public, or, Grab Your Ankles, Here Come the Airlines Again

Airlines continue to tack on fees and added charges anywhere they can in what seems to this observer to be a remarkably effective way to aggravate even the occasional traveler.  Just this past week, three carriers announced increases to checked bag fees.  In fact, if you are flying one of the “legacy” carriers (United, American, US Air, Delta/Northwest and Continental), taking a short trip and checking two bags, it’s entirely possible that the government-imposed taxes on your ticket, combined with the charges to check your bags, could end up being more than the cost of the actual transportation!

Airlines have taken the same tack as rental car companies, who for years have been tacking on everything from the fees they pay the airport to do business there (my landlord calls it rent, they call it a “concession fee” on the bill), to property taxes (I kid you not, take a look at the invoice) to ridiculous charges to refill the gas tank ($5, $6 even $7 a gallon).  It took the airlines a little while to figure out how to play this game, but greed is helping them close the gap quickly, and it’s not good news for travelers.  Baggage fees are rising, literally on an almost daily basis.  You’ll pay for pre-packaged food, a movie, a cocktail; US Air even tried charging for water for a time before public outcry made them rethink their approach.

Isn’t it interesting that among the three major carriers to post a profit in the most recent quarter you can find Southwest and Jet Blue airlines (Air Tran, which does not serve Sacramento is the third).  Neither charges a fee for the first two checked bags.  And while they do charge for cocktails in flight, the rest of the fees, up to now, have remained property of their competitors.   But now there are signs that even Southwest is falling into the abyss.  Last week Southwest announced a $20 round trip fee to secure a lower numbered/lettered boarding pass.

There has been one positive side to the baggage fees.  People are bringing less junk with them on the road.  There seems to be a prevailing attitude that even if you paid $2,000 a person for your vacation, you aren’t going to give an airline an extra $50-$60 to transport that second suitcase.  Down side – people are cramming more into the one bag they check, and carrying on more luggage, creating more competition for the overhead space on the plane.   And that one checked bag tends to weigh 10-15 pounds more than it used to.  As a Tour Director who has to handle those suitcases on an almost daily basis, I can only think of one comment.  Oh joy.

There seems to be no end in sight to the fee-free-for-all.  Ryan Air, a low-cost carrier in the UK, is installing one pound coin slot in the toilets on board their planes.  Don’t have correct change you say?  Hmmm, guess it will be a long trip.  Which US airline will be the first to add this insult to previous injury?  Stay tuned, and keep your hand on your wallet, especially on your way to the airport.  Or the john. – Mark

(Ed. Note – Sports Leisure Vacations is proud of our policy of including any fees for the first checked bag in the price of your trip.  This policy is based on baggage fees as of August 15, 2009, when our annual catalog went to press.)   

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