Airline Fees: What do Passengers Get Out of Them?

Airlines, Fees and You

The fees passengers pay for such things as checked-baggage and meal service (and even pillow and blankets) earned billions for the airlines last year; in fact, U.S. airlines took in nearly $6 billion in bag fees and change fees alone.

Results of our Facebook Poll on Airline Fees:

What do you think airlines are doing with all this fee money? You told us on Facebook and the number one response: “Pissing people off.” However, nearly 2% of the respondents believed the money went to “Putting it in a big pile and rolling around in it.” But there are more urgent uses for the funds.

These fees help keep the airlines aloft; without them, fares would go up and/or some carriers would go out of business. Beyond that, do you get anything out of all this fee revenue? Yes. You get new planes.

LISTEN: Rick’s Fun and Informative Take on Fees

Listen as FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney and Editor Anne McDermott discuss giant planes, horrendous fees and the beauty of using a carryon bag:

Airline Fees and New Planes

That’s right, new aircraft. At least, that’s where some airline revenue is going of late. Call it a massive buying spree; American Airlines, for example, is reportedly looking to purchase 250 new planes, which works out to about 40% of its current fleet. Plus Delta, Frontier, United/Continental and Southwest are also said to be looking to place substantial aircraft orders.

Although new planes might seem like an expensive investment for airlines that are in precarious financial health, it can result in significant savings in the long run: modern aircraft are far more fuel efficient than older models, and with today’s high cost of oil taking its toll on airline profits, it’s an important survival strategy. And to survive, the airlines will tell you, they need to save and make money from fees, no matter how much we hate the fees.

Airlines Modernizing Older Planes

Passengers who like WiFi and more comfortable seats will like this: More and more airlines aren’t just buying up new planes, they’re also jazzing up their older models. Delta, for instance, has just added full flatbed seats to nearly 40 planes (but you won’t get to try them unless you pay for the airline’s Business Elite seating); United/Continental, meanwhile, plans to expand its inflight WiFi service next year by adding it to an additional 200 domestic planes.

Aircraft Satisfaction Survey

Plus, passengers like new aircraft. According the 2011 J.D. Power and Associates North American Airlines Satisfaction study, leisure and business travelers were surveyed regarding all aspects of airline travel, including the condition of aircraft interiors. Some of the winners and losers in the survey’s section called, “aircraft experience”:

Below Average

  • US Airways


  • American
  • Delta
  • Southwest
  • United/Continental

Among the Best

  • JetBlue

It should be noted that JetBlue has a relatively young fleet as might be expected for an airline that didn’t begin flying until 2000.

So passengers do get something in exchange for all the fees, beyond baggage transport or something to eat, and that’s good news because new fees keep cropping up; one airline just added a fee to print out boarding passes.

What’s next on the fee horizon? You tell us, on Facebook.





Updated: February 10, 2016