Airlines on track to collect more than $3 billion for checked luggage this year

Thought those reservation change fees I showed you yesterday were shocking? Then check this out.

Here’s what airlines have charged us in baggage fees during the last 20 years. Notice any trends?

From 2007 to 2009, the number jumped from $464 million to an astounding $2.7 billion, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. If the first-quarter number holds for the rest of the year — and that’s a big “if” considering that it continues to go up — then the airline industry will collect more than $3 billion in baggage fees for 2010.

Holy smokes!

Let’s look at some of the biggest beneficiaries.
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“We must act now to stop overhead baggage fees before they become commonplace”

It was just a matter of time before the government got involved in the carry-on fee fight. You’ll recall that last week, Spirit Airlines announced it would begin charging for carry-ons this summer. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood panned the idea, while Spirit’s president, Ben Baldanza, defended it as being customer-friendly.

Yesterday, five U.S. Senators weighed in by introducing the Block Airlines’ Gratuitous Fees (BAG Fees) Act of 2010. Cute, huh?
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Spirit’s Baldanza: “The basis for this new fee was founded in improved customer service”

Earlier this week, Spirit Airlines announced it would begin charging for carry-on luggage. That drew criticism from the Secretary of Transportation, who I interviewed on Wednesday. I wanted to give Ben Baldanza, Spirit’s chief executive, an opportunity to respond — and to explain the rationale behind charging for carry-on bags. Here’s our interview:

Why did you decide to start charging for carry-on luggage?

Last fall, we identified excessive carry-on baggage as the number-one controllable reason that our planes were being delayed at the gate. We challenged ourselves to eliminate these delays without raising customer prices or Spirit’s costs, and to make the boarding process quicker and easier for our customers.
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Help! My baggage didn’t make the connection

Question: I am a Marine based in Nicosia, Cyprus. I have a situation, and I am looking for some guidance.

I recently bought tickets from Travelocity for my fiancee, Cara. Her return itinerary had her flying from Cyprus to Athens and then on to Munich on a Lufthansa flight operated by Aegean Airlines.

Her stopover in Athens was 50 minutes, which was not a problem. But when we checked in at Cyprus, she was only given a boarding pass to Athens and was told to pick up another boarding pass in Athens after retrieving her luggage. It didn’t make sense.

To make a long story short, I contacted Travelocity but Cara missed her connection in Athens and had to pay $250 to change her flight, and had to stay in a hotel for the night until the next day, which also wasn’t cheap.

I don’t know if this is just a mix up and we just got the short end of the stick, or if there is something we can do. Any help would be greatly appreciated. — Joshua Smith, Nicosia, Cyprus

Answer: Cara should have been able to check her baggage all the way through to Munich, no questions asked. When you phoned Travelocity, they should have given you a straight answer about why that wasn’t possible and helped you and your fiancee figure out a solution.
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“You will be charged $25 per bag on your return flight”

I never meant to openly challenge American Airlines’ indefensible policy of charging those who can least afford it – budget-conscious leisure travelers – for the first checked bag. I had no intention of making a scene when I boarded a flight to Dallas with my family this morning.

But sometimes, these things can’t be avoided.

We were traveling with one carry-on bag per person. But three members of our party were kids, so it looked as if we were trying to pull a fast one, hauling everything but the kitchen sink on board. Also, the luggage template they forced us to squeeze our bags into looked as if it could barely fit a pocketbook. (Is it my imagination, or are those templates getting smaller?)
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Are baggage fees turning us all into Southwest passengers?

clip0001One of the most compelling arguments against excessive luggage fees is that they were actually hurting the airlines’ bottom line — that by adding these extras, travelers were turning to carriers like Southwest and JetBlue, which don’t charge for the first checked bag.

But it turns out that’s not true.

Airline analyst Robert Herbst, who runs the site Airlinefinancials.com, reviewed the data and found baggage fees haven’t hurt legacy airlines. In fact, Southwest may be hurting itself by not charging more fees.

“Southwest has attempted to use their no-fee policy in media advertisement to entice passengers away from their ‘charge-for-everything’ competitors,” he says. “Some industry commentators have suggested these ancillary fees are pushing traffic from the old legacy airlines over to Southwest.”
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