Airline Fees IMHO

By The Flying Pinto

I’ve had an opinion about airline fees for a while and now seems a good time to express them, although I doubt I hold the popular opinion here goes.

Joan Lowy of the associated press said:

Airlines, travel agents, online travel services and other ticket distribution channels should be required to disclose fees for checked baggage, changed reservations and other services in a clear and consistent manner, the Government Accountability Office said in a report out Wednesday.

Since 2007, many airlines have been charging for services that were traditionally included in the price of a ticket. That’s improved airline bottom lines in a tough economy but raised the ire of travelers who find themselves nickeled-and-dimed to substantially higher costs. read more here…

“Clear and consistent manner?” I checked out all the major airlines web sites and you can find all their fees listed. Everything from checked baggage fees to unaccompanied minor fees. I think everybody just loves to jump on the “I hate the airlines” bandwagon.

“Besides checked bags, some airlines charge fees for seat selection, extra leg room, prime spots in boarding lines, blankets, pillows, drinks and meals. “Those fees can be an unexpected shock totaling hundreds of dollars,” said Charles Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance.”

“Unexpected shock?” Really? Unexpected shock is when I rent a car at Logan Airport in Boston and the airport and city fees are as much as the car rental. Is the checked bag fee a shock to anyone? If I’m not mistaken it is about $25 with any given airline. (You can still check 2 bags at SouthWest for free) And, you don’t have to purchase a blanket, pillow, or a meal. You could follow my advice and pack these items in your carry on. As far as a drink goes, bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it at the water fountain once you pass through. You should drink water anyway when you fly and forget bottled water, it’s expensive and contains harmful BPA. So, bottom line, do you really want to pay for every body’s baggage handling fees if you don’t normally check a bag? Or, for the blankets to be laundered? (probably wasn’t a big fee…they never seemed to be clean huh?)  You get the point.

The fact is, the average airline ticket price is still at a 1978 price point, adjusted for inflation.The airlines have been struggling for years to raise the price of a ticket to balance out what it costs to run an airline. I could see if the airlines had overinflated profits, like the oil industry in previous years but, they don’t, they’re merely trying to survive. (Although, our layover hotels have been upgraded to W and The Four Seasons since the fees started paying off)


I think the consumer asked for the a la carte menu. For as long as I have been flying, the majority of passengers I know have based their choice of airline on cost. I had a passenger on a flight from Houston to Portland once who complained that she just had breakfast on her last flight. I asked her where she just flew from as it was still breakfast time. She said, “New York.” Knowing we have a direct flight from New York to Portland I responded, “you must have gotten a great fare?” Changing her tune from upset to proud, she said, “I did!” “How’d you know?” Don’t you think it’s better to choose? Most airlines still allow one carry on and a personal item such as a lap top bag or purse so, you don’t have to pay a checked bag fee if you use that option and you don’t have to pay for the other extras either. I’m all for the fees, I think it is great that the only industry I know that under prices its product is finally making some money again, albeit a small amount of money.

, ,


  1. navyaircrewman @ 2010-07-15 12:28

    It's no different than buying cars, or anything else with 'hidden' fees. What people really want to know when they are getting quotes are total including fees but forget to ask and get too embarassed to admit they didn't ask those earlier before it gets down to shelling out the currency. A good recipe for buyer's remorse.

    You're totally right, that information is available or they can go 'old school' and call the airlines but it's more fun to complain. That's the one pitfall of social media (IMHO) is that not does everyone have a 'reputable' voice now but so many feel required to use it to vent about stupid things.

  2. The Traveling Giraffe @ 2010-07-15 12:58

    I don't disagree with you, but with all the fees for things that used to be included it's gotten more complex to book a ticket. People who travel even once a year are probably aware of most the changes that have happened over the last few years, but people who don't/can't travel much are the ones that are getting hit the most.

    I have a friend who doesn't travel much and paid more in fees when traveling on Spirit then his airfare cost him, and that had a lot to do with the fact that he was unaware of all the fees before he booked the ticket – checked bags, and seat assignments. Yea, if he checked the website he would have known, but in the end he was feeling cheated by the airline more then anything else.

    I've been traveling a fair amount over the last few years and am flying BA to the UK in 2 months. I checked if their was a fee for checked bags – no for the first bag. Although I knew BA started charging a fee for choosing a seat I didn't look for the costs because in this circumstance I was going to book BA either way. If I pre-book my seats it will cost me almost 10% of the cost of the ticket to choose a seat, and that's not even a "better" seat – exit row or extra leg room – just a seat. Ouch! Yes, I could have looked it up, but I didn't and I didn't find out until after I booked the ticket.

    Will I fly BA again, probably (or at least I wont add it to my no fly list), but I feel frustrated by it. I'm not traveling with anyone, am not terribly picky about seat, but the thought of a middle seat on a red-eye flight is probably enough to make me pay $30 (one way) for piece of mind. It's just irratating and who wants to be irratated by traveling?

    As for fees for food and blankets – if my blanket is clean and the food edible, then I'm all for it!

    With all the fees it's become more complex to book a ticket and know your true price. Yea, you could go look for the fees for checked bag on the website, but then do I need to look for the blanket fee, the food costs, the picking your seat fee, the unaccompanied minor fee, the bathroom fee, and the carry-on fee. Where does it end and how much time am I expected to spend looking at this and comparing costs?

  3. The Friendly Skies @ 2010-07-15 15:52

    I'm going to agree with you on this one as well!

    I think that the casual fliers, the ones who travel once or twice a year for vacation are looking for a good deal. I believe that when you want a good deal, you also make an informed decision and do your homework. How many people worrying about money will just buy a ticket and not read the fine print? Especially with all the negative news on airlines and fees out there…

    Price is a huge reason people fly an airline or have a connection or two instead of booking the direct flight. If you want lower prices, then this a la carte thinking helps get those lower initial prices to the passenger and they can choose what else to pay for.

    Like Sara said, I pack a water bottle to fill in the airport and I always pack a snack or lunch with me.

  4. BlkAv8tor2003 @ 2010-07-15 16:23

    Hidden fee! Airlines are loaded with them…just like phone bills!!! LOL Buying a ticket, plus fuel surcharges, landing fees, sales tax are all acceptable. Baggage fees have been the airlines newest cash cow and there is no way for a pax to really get around it!

    I lways say ship your bags ahead on FedEx or UPS. At least you know where your bag is the whole time it's apart from you and you know when it arrives. This is great for the not so frequent flier who knows where they are going and are going to be there for significant amount of time. Business travelers would then have less worries about baggage in overheads because most of there bags are the same size or similar type so everything is uniform in the overhead bins.

    The airlines will continue to get over as long as government regulations when bags are lost don't come into play. $1250 is an ok number is the airline loses your bag but sometimes it can't replace what you lost. Careful what you check in the first place!


  5. Anonymous @ 2010-07-15 17:23

    This post conflates a lot of issues.

    1) Does it make sense for the airline and the consumer to "unbundle" services/costs?

    2) Is this unbundling through the use of fees clear/easy for the consumer to see?

    3) Is the way that fees are handled/advertised/charged make it harder for the consumer to comparison shop?

    So to answer those questions IMHO:

    1)It makes sense for the consumer to only pay for what they need/use. If you don't need two bags, why pay for others people's luggage? It makes sense for some carriers as they get revenue while being able to advertise a lower ticket price. However some airlines are so well run they don't need to do this (Southwest).

    2)NO! And this is the cause for a lot of the anger on behalf of the consumer. Different airlines charge different amounts for different add ons. Some give you one piece of luggage for free, others charge for both. Different airlines charge for different amounts. Within an airline elites get some fees waived. It is NOT easy to go to an airline's website and find out what everything costs. It would be great if each airlines website had on the FRONT page a box that said:

    Ticket price quoted includes X
    Fee for Y is $$
    Fee for Z is $$



    3) It is difficult to comparison shop now with all the fees. You basically have to decide ahead of time what services/extras you want and then go to EACH airlines website and search for different days/times and then compare.

    It is in the airlines own interest, and would be PRO-consumer, if they built fees into the ticketing/pricing system so that you could go to say "Kayak" or "Expedia" and enter "two pieces of luggage" and "assigned aisle seat" in addition to the normal date and destination and then get the COMPLETE and TRUE price comparison…

  6. Anonymous @ 2010-07-15 20:34

    Most casual travelers (vacation, 1-2x a year) don't go straight to an airline website or call an airline to buy tickets. They call an travel agent or go to a site like Orbitz. When they get a list of flights with 2 layovers involving 3 airlines multiplied by 15 originating airlines, do you expect them to look at the price of the ticket there (which may change every 10 minutes if your search times out) and then go to all 15 airlines websites look up the fees and be able to make an informed decision?

    Sure, it may only take 3 clicks on an airlines site to find the various fees, but that does me no good if I am using an aggregate site like most people do. That is what we (and congress) complain about. You go to an aggregate site and see a fee for $125… then you get to the final purchase and have another $250 in taxes and fuel surcharge fees, then you get to the counter to check in for your flight and have another $150 in baggage/seat/blanket/meal fees that were never disclosed at the time (and place) of purchase.

    If I am going to travel 1-2x a year, I'm not going to keep an up to date fee matrix of 15-20 airlines sitting around so I can figure out what my price for a ticket will actually be. The airlines are banking on that fact.

    The travel sites (Orbitz, Travelocity, etc) have the capability and willingness to disclose this information. The airlines won't share it. The Spirit Airlines CEO stated that in his testimony. They don't want you to know what the extra fees are at the time you purchase the extra low fare because they make too much money from going "gotcha" at the gate. Even if it is easy to find on individual airline sites, it doesn't help the way most people buy tickets.

    People aren't as pissed about the fees as they are about the candid camera way they get hit with the fees. As an airline employee, if you can't understand that simple idea, you are out of touch with your customers.

  7. lisleman @ 2010-07-15 20:37

    you have some long comments here – I'll be short. I understand what you are saying but I disagree. I think Southwest gets business because of it's approach and I believe they have been making profits when others were not. A fee for the second bag is OK. Up the price and include my first bag.

  8. Packing A Canon @ 2010-07-15 21:16

    It would be nice for folks like Expedia/Orbits to disclose the fees, but the government needs to stay out of this. Maybe if one of the sites figures out how to do this, then people will reward them by booking there. I'm all for the capitalistic approach.

    I almost never check a bag (short business trips), and when I do the fee is waived due to my status on the airline. However, the fee creates a problem, even for those of us that don't pay it. Since the advent of the baggage fees, customers are carrying more and more junk on the plane with them. The airlines are doing a HORRIBLE job of enforcing their own carry-on baggage rules. That means that the overhead bins are overflowing on nearly every flight (except the long haul 777 routs, where most folks check a bag and the bins are large enough to vacation in). The full bins slow the boarding process, while passengers look in vain for a spot then have to gate check the bag.

    I find it odd, BTW, that they don't enforce the carry-on rules better. If they enforced the rule, people would be forced to check more bags, thus raising revenue. Gate-checking the bag carries no fee. So it behooves the customer to TRY to get their bag in the cabin, and check it if they can't find space. They just saved $25. Very odd.

  9. Nakamuras on Saipan @ 2010-07-15 22:29

    We pay outrageous prices for airline travel from where we live-because we are out in the middle of no-where. A CHEAP ticket to the US mainland is around 1,700-if you book well in advance. I just got back from Milwaukee. That was a 36 hour total trip. Living here for 30 years-I'm used to these long trips-I make them often. I think the only beef I have is something also mentioned by Packing a Canon- airlines enforcing the carry-on bag rule. I always make sure my carry on is regulation sized and can fit in the over head bin or under my seat. Usually when I get on the plane I have to struggle to find a place to put my carry on. with these long hauls I fly I need a carry-on. I have long layovers at usually 2-3 airports. What just irritates the crap out of me is seeing passengers get on the plane with 2-3 HUGE carry on bags that you KNOW are not going to fit or they are going to take up the entire bin! If I pay for a seat, then I want my bin storage space above my seat. I do not want to have to walk up and down the plane trying to find a place to put my regulation -sized carry on because some arse brought half his house along on the plane- and stuffed it in my bin storage ! And then everyone is looking irritated at ME because I'm the passenger walking around, holding up the line because I can't find a place to put my carry on.

    Whew-sorry. As you can tell that's a major beef I have. But I know- I'm not alone in feeling this way.

  10. Anonymous @ 2010-07-16 16:05

    As a person who works on new programs quite regularly, I would like to propose that people are angry not with the cost of the items at all, but with the sense that airlines are "taking away" what was previously part of the ticket.

    $7 for a lunch or $25 to overnight a bag to London is really not expensive. The issue is that this was never charged before. Through poor marketing, airlines have now faced angry passengers who feel like the ticket has been "devalued".

    Alaska did this right. When they started charging for bags, they enhanced the service. They started offering a 20 minute guarantee that the bag would be on the belt. If the airline can generate a perception of increased value, that is all it would take to make this shift much easier.

    To vent a bit, I am sick of airlines saying they can't raise prices. My customers would be so upset if I kept telling them that because they won't spend more I can't make money. Outside of the airline biz, this comment would only involve a good laugh. Air transport is a technology-intensive business. I hope I don't pay 1978 prices for a computer right now (forget inflation). Yes, labor and gas are the most expensive charges, but airlines have been managing those agressively, have they not?

    This post seems to have hit a nerve with a lot of people. Interesting read. Thanks for the great blog!

  11. Joanna Jenkins @ 2010-07-16 21:31

    I can't remember the last time I purchased an airline ticket that I didn't know EXACTLY what I was being charged before I hit the "purchase" button so the "hidden fees" complaints make me roll my eyes.

    I think the core of the problem with the added fees started with the "oil crisis" as the original cause for the extra fees. Once oil prices went down the increases stayed in place and more fees (and ala carte pricing) were added. The fees felt like a knee-jerk reaction and weren't marketed all that well in the beginning. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20.

    And you're right– TAXES are insane! Now THOSE are hidden fees. Sheesh!

    Hope all is well with you and your family,

  12. Anonymous @ 2010-07-19 10:37

    What a great post and equally good comments. As a marketing consultant on this subject(and running one of the conferences in the area) this is a subject that I can see from both sides.

    If you talk with Barry Biffle the guy in charge of Marketing at Spirit, his thoughts are why should that day trip businessman with no checked in luggage subsidise those that check in several bags. I think I agree with that, where there is a reasonable choice (using the loo is not, broadly speaking, a choice!) and where the fee is reasonable and proportionate. It does also help, that if you charge, you add some value, so what Alaska have done on baggage (in terms of how long before the bags come off) is correct.

    Where the industry has lagged is the transparency of all these fees. There is a reason for this, mainly that to start with these optional services were only sold via the airlines on their own websites. Their ability to sell these services via travel agents/OTA's was difficult. Without getting into the boring reasons (of which there are many) it looks like that has been fixed and that should help with transparency.

    It should start to help consumers make fare comparisons and reasonable decisions when it comes to the final price they will pay. And that must be a good thing!

    Ryanair here in Europe have just announced they have over 7 million bookings for July. That's not a typo. 7 million people in Europe have booked a ticket with them for one month. Now these are the people who are proposing charging for the loo (on flights less than one hour) and it seems that it hasn't put consumers off.

    Whilst most people don't travel that often and will take some time to adapt to the new world, they will eventually. After all, we got used to cars on our streets, learnt how to use mobiles and the internet, all of which were considerably different from the old way of doing things.

    Ultimately, as long as the customer has a choice and there is competition then we'll adapt. Eventually. And for some, through gritted teeth!

  13. The Flying Pinto @ 2010-07-20 09:06

    Wow, thank you for all the comments. There were some great points on both sides made. I can actually see one of my anonymous commenters points about people being upset because they feel something they had was being taken away.

    Thanks everyone for reading and joining in the conversation.

  14. Air ticket @ 2010-07-20 10:38

    Thanks for the information.

  15. Anonymous @ 2010-08-06 07:16

    Not sure about the US or Canada, but in Europe for years those fees were not disclosed or advertised.
    Customers would go through the entire booking process seeing a ticket price of say €150, then at checkout suddenly see a fee of €500.
    Then on arrival at the airport, they would at checking be presented with another fee of €20 or so per suitcase, and a "checkin fee" of €10 or so (in extreme cases) which was never mentioned on the airline website.

    Not all airlines used to to the last 2, but some did (especially lowcost carriers like Ryanair and Easyjet).
    All did the first, hiding hundreds of Euros of surcharges and stuff until the final billing moment.

    Right now, despite laws telling airlines to disclose all such things clearly at every stage of the booking process, you're still often presented with extra cost after booking.
    Airlines for example reserve the right to increase "security tax" or "fuel tax" after booking, and do so with gusto, often leaving passengers no option but to cough up large sums in cash on checkin or find themselves stranded.

    It is because of things like this that laws were put in place demanding full disclosure of prices, the situation you describe where all surcharges (mandatory ones included that should have been part of the ticket price but aren't for marketing reasons, this way the airline can advertise a €10 fare from London to Madrid and still charge you €250 for it) are published clearly didn't exist at least in Europe until a few short years ago. If they were listed at all it was in some obscure portion of the website that was inaccessible from the booking engine for example.