Like just about every other airline passenger this summer, Elizabeth Rodgers wants to avoid any unnecessary fees. So on a recent flight from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho, she tried to carry all of her luggage on the plane.
She didn’t get far.
As Rodgers boarded the cramped regional jet, passengers were being asked to gate-check most of their carry-ons. A flight attendant tagged her extra bag without charging her $15. “I checked it for free,” says Rodgers, a technology writer based in Los Angeles.
Sidestepping this year-old airline rule was pretty easy up to this point. Flight attendants and gate agents routinely waved passengers with too much luggage through, hoping to avoid a confrontation. But now that baggage fees are generating serious money — they accounted for $1.5 billion in 2008, according to the Transportation Department — airlines are less likely to let the surplus bags slide.
· US Airways last month began charging $5 on top of its $15 fee for a first checked bag if you don’t pay for it in advance.
· Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines started charging $50 for the second checked bag on flights to Europe.
· Alaska Airlines added a checked-bag fee, too: $15 for the first bag, $25 for the second.
Airlines are spinning the changes in a clever way. My favorite explanation comes from US Airways, which rationalized its new fee as a way to offer customers “the convenience of prepaying to check their bags online.”
It’s clear that airlines are depending on ancillary revenues in general, and luggage fees in particular, more than ever. Meaning air travelers must be more vigilant than ever about avoiding them.
The days of passengers like Rodgers eluding a $15 or $50 fee are numbered. A proposed new law would see to that. It tasks the Transportation Security Administration with limiting the number of carry-ons travelers can bring through security checkpoints. Not hard to see the airline industry’s fingerprints all over that bill.
What to do?
1. Bring less.
Obviously, the best way to avoid paying for a checked bag is not to bring one in the first place. “Keep your bags as light as possible,” advises Barbara DesChamps, author of “It’s In The Bag: The Complete Guide to Lightweight Travel.” How can you tell if your luggage is overweight? I’ve been testing a Balanzza digital luggage scale that’s very portable and, at a $24.99 list price, doesn’t break the bank. Don’t take this advice too far, though. Pack a change of clothes, and for goodness sakes, wear something on the plane. US Airways passenger Keith Wright might have benefitted from that advice. He disrobed on a recent flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles, and ended up in the slammer.
2. Fly a no-fee airline.
JetBlue Airways doesn’t charge for the first checked bag. Neither does Southwest Airlines. In fact, it doesn’t charge for a second bag, either. Both of these companies have acknowledged what the rest of us already know: People travel with at least one bag. Shouldn’t we be rewarding these airlines with our business?