Soaring Profits: The Airline Baggage Business

luggageNot so long ago, one of my biggest fears of flying was that the airline would lose my luggage.

These days? I wish!

Now that baggage fees have become the cash cow of the airline industry, my greater fear is that they won’t lose my luggage, and instead, I’ll have to fork over the price of an upscale dinner to pay for the convenience of schlepping it home.

For that dough, I could have left the dang thing home, replaced the clothing, toiletries, and emergency stockpile of Whoppers at my destination, and still had money to tip the bellman.

The U.S. Department of Transportation confirmed my new worst fear of flying recently when it reported that the 27 U.S.-based airlines sucker-punched passengers to the tune of $3.5 billion in bag fees last year. That’s a 5 percent increase over 2013 and more than triple the $1.1 billion in baggage fees they collected in 2008. Even the otherwise sane JetBlue has climbed aboard the bags-‘o-cash gravy train this year.

But hang onto your peanuts: it gets worse.

According to the feds, the windfall from “other revenue,” a hodgepodge that includes charges for seat assignments, pillows, blankets and onboard food, beverages and entertainment topped $4 billion on U.S. carriers last year, a 13 percent jump from the previous year.

Consider these sky-high air expenses, compiled by the travel data site

  • Non-Internet booking fees: Most U.S. carriers charge $25 if you book by phone, $35 if you book in person.
  • Overweight baggage: As meeting planners have no doubt memorized, Delta, United, and US-American charge $100 per bag between 50-70 pounds and $200 from 71-100, while Allegiant and Spirit start the overweight meter at 41 pounds.
  • Unaccompanied minor: Better arm Junior with $75-$150.
  • Seat selection fees: Fancy a bulkhead or exit row seat? Charges vary from $4-$100.

The downtrodden big guys counter that the recession was one bumpy ride, what with steep jumps in the cost of fuel combined with cash-strapped passengers. Without the fees for “conveniences,” their ticket prices would have gone through the roof and they wouldn’t have survived.

But consumer groups say now that the recovery is well underway, the feds should at least require the airlines to disclose how much they plan to lighten our wallets before takeoff.

Disclosure? What’s needed is closure of this Pandora’s Box they’ve been allowed to open.

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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