Baggage, Baggage, Baggage.
"What is all this?" my friend Monica shouted as she furled her brow looking at her computer screen. She was in the middle of booking two round trip tickets to New York City, when she realized her airline of choice was going to charge her for carry-on and/or checked baggage.
"Which airline are you using?" I asked in an irritated voice.
"Spirit," she announced casually.
Hearing her speak of an airline with the guts to charge passengers for a carry-on bag made me sick to my stomach. If one airline charges for this, others would surely follow.
Trying not to let panic set in as I visualized all my future travel plans crumbling under the weight of all the extra fees I asked, "What are they trying to charge you?"
"$28 for checked bags and $30 for carry-on if I pay online ahead of time. Pay the fee at the airport and the charges increase. $38 for checked bags and carry-on bags range from $40-$45."
The thought of paying up to $45 for a carry-on bag was maddening. But as I engaged in some research the following day, my rage simmered down to a low boil. I was relieved to find that no other airlines well known in the U.S. has started charging for carry-on bags. Although, I cannot imagine other airlines skipping out on the extra revenue for long, as fuel prices continue to sore.
I also learned that according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the airline industry took in almost $5.7 billion in 2010 in revenue, from baggage fees and reservation change fees. $5.7 billion seems outrageous at first glance, but profit (the true measure of a business' financial success) from these fees was only $958 million.
Airline industry experts like George Hobica of airfarewatchdog.com and Rick Seany, co-founder of farecompare.com, note that these fees keep the airline industry profitable. Without the fees they may be on their way to asking for a government bailout, because simply raising ticket prices decreases the number of passengers significantly. Personally, I am highly against a "bailout" situation for an industry that enables me to indulge in a luxury, rather than a necessity. Additionally, the American Transportation Association stated to ABC News that "Without sustained profitability airlines cannot add routes, add workers, or buy new airplanes-- all in the interest of airline customers and the global economy."
Other positive notes of interest include the U.S. Department of Transportation's expansion of passenger rights, first publicly announced in April 2011. Included in this expansion of rights, was the requirement of airlines to fully refund a passengers baggage fee, in addition to reimbursement of lost items if the bag was missing indefinitely. This requirement had to be met by all airlines by the end of this month. (Note: airlines have limits to how much they will reimburse a passenger for a lost bag. Read each individual airline's policies closely.)
Taking into account the bigger picture when examining increasing airline fees, my anger decreases a bit. I understand that the cost of travel can be highly dependent upon rising fuel costs. I understand travel is a luxury and depletes a non-renewable resource that promotes environmental degredation. I also understand a business must make money in order to continue to offer their services and meet customer demand. But I will also continue to consider the difference between profit and greed.
The airline's revenue from fees (which became a common place practice as of 2008), increased 10% between 2009 and 2010. And as I looked at article after article, commentators on this subject seemed convinced that travelers should be bracing for further "add-on's" and increased fees. It is my hope that a balance can be struck; a balance between making this industry profitable and sustainable, while fairly charging customers for the services used.
Photo Credit: Microsoft office.