U.S. Airlines Took in $3.4 Billion in Baggage Fees Last Year

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It’s no wonder that airlines have asked for a delay in rules that would make checked-baggage fees more transparent to travelers.

The same day the Department of Transportation released numbers showing that in 2010 U.S. airlines pocketed $3.4 billion in fees for checked bags, trade groups for several carriers asked the DOT to extend a deadline that would require baggage fees be made more transparent to travelers. The groups claim that Aug. 23 is too early a date to properly train employees and update their systems. But the DOT report brings to light what might be another motivating factor for airlines to keep their fees as low-profile as possible.

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True, it’s relatively easy to look up baggage fees on a carrier’s website. Delta, which accounted for $952 million of checked baggage fees, or 28% of the $3.4 billion, charges $25 for the first bag checked and $35 for the second bag on domestic flights. American Airlines, at No. 2, earned $580 million in bag fees, also charges the $25/$35 rates on domestic flights and flights between Canada and the U.S., Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. Most airlines will not charge fees on the first checked bag on international flights.

But regardless of how transparent airlines are about bag fees on their websites (and actually it takes at least five minutes to break down the various levels of fees airlines charge), some travelers aren’t aware of the price difference between the first and second checked bag or that some airlines don’t charge for travel between Canada and the U.S., Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. With all that travelers have to consider these days — patdowns, sleeping air traffic controllers, increasing airfare — it wouldn’t hurt to have an e-ticket that details exactly what kind of fee they’ll have to pay for checked baggage on their individual flights.

While it can be argued that things like in-flight entertainment and perhaps even food are a luxury and therefore should incur a charge, it’s pretty difficult to travel without luggage. And unless overhead bins get bigger, there doesn’t seem to be room for the growing number of people who are foregoing checking baggage and carrying on. Considering the extra money that’s rolling into airlines like Delta, American and U.S. Airways, the airlines could at the very least give travelers a heads up on what they should expect to pay to check their bags.

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