Plane takes off
Origin of Fees Bag Fees Food and Comfort Fees Other Fees

Timeline of Fees

First fees: It was May 2008 when American Airlines made the momentous announcement: The airline would begin charging a fee for all checked-bags. Smaller, discount carriers such as Allegiant and Spirit had been charging such fees since 2007 or earlier, but this was a first for a legacy carrier.

How much: Early bag fees weren’t terribly expensive; American initially charged $15 each-way for a first checked-bag; today, all legacy carriers (American, Delta, United) charge $25 each-way.

Reason for fees: Airlines said they needed fees to help with the soaring cost of jet fuel and lingering effects of the recession of 2008. It’s true that just a few years ago, oil cost nearly $150 per barrel but in recent years, it’s hovered under and around the $50 per barrel mark. Yet fees remain. Why? Because they bring in billions and billions of dollars.

There would be more to come.

Bag Fees

  • 2008: American Airlines is the first legacy carrier to charge passengers a first checked-bag fee and the others quickly follow. The only airlines still offering free bags are JetBlue (1) and Southwest (2).
  • 2010: Spirit Airlines breaks a new bag barrier by imposing a carryon bag fee.
  • 2015: JetBlue begins charging for all checked-bags.
  • 2017: Southwest remains the lone hold-out with free carry-ons and two free checked-bags.

Blankets and Pillows

  • 2008: JetBlue announces it will charge $7 for a pillow and blanket (which are yours to keep).
  • 2009: US Airways begins charging for pillows/blankets. The airline itself, meanwhile, would soon disappear into a merger with American Airlines.
  • 2017: Few airlines still offer blankets and pillows for free or for a fee.

Food and Drink

  • 2001: After 9/11, many airlines begin dropping meal service on domestic flights.
  • 2003: Delta starts selling snack boxes on some of its flights.
  • 2005: United begins selling $5 snack boxes in place of meals.
  • 2008: US Airways begins a highly criticized practice: charging for all drinks (including water, coffee, and soda).
  • 2009: US Airways stops charging for drinks (because no other airline joined in).
  • 2010: Continental serves up the last free meal in coach in autumn; Continental itself would soon be gone after its merger with United.
  • 2017: Delta announces the return of free meals in coach/economy class, on certain routes; within weeks, American makes a similar announcement.

Credit Cards

  • 2005: Hawaiian Airlines starts accepting credit cards on some flights.
  • 2010: Twelve U.S. carriers have credit card-only policies, which soon becomes the norm.

Note: This is no fee per se involved in airlines credit card acceptance (beyond the fee card companies might charge) but it is included because it illustrates an in-flight inconvenience.

Peak Travel Day Surcharges

  • 2009: Several airlines began adding surcharges to tickets for peak travel days in September; originally this surcharge was imposed on the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods.
  • 2010: Surcharges continue throughout the spring and summer of 2010 and beyond (see our historical 2010 Peak Travel Day Surcharge Chart).
  • Recent years: Surcharges imposed on international routes during the past several years were often referred to as ‘fuel surcharges’ and sometimes cost hundreds of dollars. Since then, surcharges remain (though the word ‘fuel’ has been dropped from the name) and the cost of these surcharges is much lower.

Note: Again, this is not a fee – more like a veiled airfare price hike – but it is included because it represents another charge to passengers.