US airlines bag-check fees weigh down fliers

Written by Reuters | Chicago | Updated: Aug 28 2009, 05:44am hrs
US airlines are slowly ratcheting up their bag-check fees, like US Airways Group Inc did on Wednesday, but analysts warn that carriers risk alienating customers with excessive fees.

US Airways said that on domestic flights it would charge $20 to check a single bag and $30 to check a second bag. The carrier said it also would charge $50 to check a second bag on its transatlantic flights. Late Wednesday, Continental Airlines Inc also unveiled plans to charge some economy ticket holders $50 for a second checked bag on transatlantic flights. Travelers who buy nonrefundable or discounted fares are among those who would be subject to the fee, a company spokeswoman said.

The airline said the fee does not apply to elite members of the airlines frequent-flier program, those traveling on full- fare economy tickets and other groups.

The fees are consistent with those implemented by rival airlines such as AMR Corps American Airlines, which added a fee last week for a second bag check on some international routes. Airlines view the new fees as fair and necessary to bolster revenue as the industry grapples with weak demand and volatile fuel prices. But for many travelers on long, extended trips, the charges, while technically optional, are unavoidable.

Airlines are fighting for scraps here. These are penny ante policies that often catch consumers by surprise, said Joe Schwieterman, transportation expert at DePaul University in Chicago. Its made traveling with two bags punitive for many flyers. The airline industry, facing losses that have threatened the survival of many carriers in the last few years, have begun unbundling items and services that used to be included in the ticket price.

All of the fees are unfair for the consumers, but charging for fees is one of the only ways that the airlines can survive, said Basili Alukos, an airline analyst at Morningstar.

Alukos noted it is still much cheaper to check a bag on an airline than it is to ship the same bag through another major cargo service. The new fees are common in the US airline industry. Delta Air Lines Inc charges $15 for a single checked bag on travel within the United States and $50 for a second checked bag on travel in the economy class between the US and Europe.