by Scott Mayerowitz
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP)—U.S. airlines collected $3.4 billion in bag fees last year. The 24 percent increase from 2009 shows how the airlines are increasingly reliant on charging for once-free services to make money.
The fees—typically $50 round-trip for the first piece of checked luggage—are one of the few bright spots for an industry that is caught between rising fuel costs and customers who expect rock-bottom airfares.
“If it weren’t for the fees, the airlines would most likely be losing money,” said Jim Corridore, airline analyst with Standard & Poor’s.
That’s little comfort to fliers who’ve felt nickel-and-dimed by the airlines over the past three years as fees have proliferated. And as they face higher airfares and packed planes for travel this summer.
“I feel like I am constantly being hit by little things by the airlines,” said Lauren DiMarco, a stay-at-home mother from Wenham, Mass. “We’re already paying so much money.”
Delta generated the most revenue from bag fees—$952 million—followed by the combined United and Continental at nearly $655 million. American collected $580 million and US Airways $513 million.
Airlines aggressively raised ticket prices early in the year. But those increases couldn’t keep up with the price of jet fuel, now 37 percent costlier than last year. Some more recent attempts at fare increases have failed because passengers have shown resistance to higher fares.
So instead, the airlines focus on fees.
“Unfortunately, for the airlines when they try to roll $50 into the ticket prices, people stop buying tickets,” said Rick Seaney CEO of FareCompare.com.
Earlier this month, Delta and United raised fees to check a second bag to Europe. Delta also added a fee for second bags checked to Latin America and ended its $2 discount for paying fees in advance online.
American Airlines introduced fees for the first checked bag in 2008 as the price of oil skyrocketed. The other airlines, except JetBlue and Southwest, have since followed and progressively increased those charges.
Many fliers are still unaware of the fees or understand how much they have to pay until they arrive at the airport ticket counter.
(Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.)