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Airlines rake in big bucks on baggage fees

June 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A government report released Monday shows that the nation's airlines are profiting off of all kinds of added fees.

The airlines will tell you that those fees are the only way they can offset the skyrocketing costs of jet fuel. The passengers say all those fees sometimes add up to the cost of another ticket. So for now people can either stay home, or at least pack lightly.

When airlines raise ticket prices, people buy fewer tickets. So airlines have turned to fees as way to beef up their bottom line, to the tune of several billion dollars.

"It does make you feel nickeled-and-dimed," said airline passenger Mike Burt. "You know what, if you're going to get that, include it in the price of the fare."

Plenty of passengers are peeved about how many fees the airlines are adding on to the price of an ticket. From checking bags to changing your itinerary, the fees can add up quickly.

"When you have multiple bags, you can end up paying more round-trip than the actual fare that you paid for the ticket," said Patrik Olson, who works for Willett Travel in Studio City.

"If you're taking your family, two kids to visit grandma and God forbid she lives in Paris," said Olson. "On Air France, for example, your first bag is free, your second bag is $80. Multiply that by a family of four. That's $320 each way."

Last year, airlines made $3.4 billion in baggage fees. That's up 24 percent from 2009. The income generated from reservation and change fees was down 3 percent from the year before, but that still accounted for $2.3 billion.

"Right now the airlines are already losing money as a whole," said Rick Seney, chief executive officer of FareCompare.com. "So they would be even deeper in the hole and probably requiring a bailout if we didn't have these fees."

Southwest Airlines and JetBlue are the only two domestic carriers that don't charge for checked luggage. Otherwise, fliers just have to plan accordingly.

"For business and also personal travel I try to fly airlines that do not charge the handling fee for bags," said airline passenger Yani Betancourt.

New rules from the Department of Transportation will go into effect in August and they'll require that airlines display prominently all those fees and hidden surcharges on their websites before passengers can buy tickets so they know exactly what they're buying.

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