5 Stages of Airline Fee Grief

If time is money, airline fees are a double whammy – they are partly responsible for why we have to get to the airport so early. According to a report from Boeing, since 1970, the time it takes to board a plane has doubled. So, we have to show up earlier to make sure we get those carry-ons stowed – you know, the bags we tote to avoid the expensive bag fees.

Here’s a historical look at these extra charges – and the latest updates.

Five Fees Worth Paying

Five Stages of Airline Fee Grief

With apologies to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:

1. Denial

It all began when American Airlines started charging $15 for a first checked-bag back in 2008. We thought it would be a fluke, or at least the fee would never go up. Wrong. Every other airline – with the exception of JetBlue and Southwest – began charging for a first bag, and the fees have since zoomed. Now, American and the other legacy carriers all charge $50 round-trip for that first bag, and if it weighs more than 100 pounds, American hits you with an additional overweight charge of $200. That’s $200 each way.

[Keep reading – there’s plenty more, after the search box]

Bag Fees: See What Your Airline Charges

2. Anger

Sometimes it seems like the fees never end. Sure, US Airways tried and failed to charge for soft drinks, but Spirit made it work – then added insult to injury by adding a carry-on bag fee, which was soon copied by Allegiant. There are now blanket and pillow fees, and fees for making a reservation by phone, but no fee makes passengers angrier than the hefty reservation change fee that costs $150 on American, Delta, United and US Airways. And the fees keep coming: United just upped its second checked-bag fee on flights to Europe to $100, a move quickly followed by US Airways. Even worse, some airlines make you pay and do all the work – such as Alaska’s new do-it-yourself bag tagging experiment.

More Airlines May Charge for Carry-ons

3. Bargaining

People do everything in their power to avoid fees, and there are some workable options: most airlines don’t charge for carry-ons, so pack light and save. If you’re close to elite status, stay loyal to your airlines to get perks like free bags. Apply for the branded-credit cards for freebies like early boarding and fee-free bags. Or upgrade with miles instead of money and get the benefits of upper class travel.

Southwest: No Free Bags on AirTran Anytime Soon

4. Depression

At this point, we know fees are not going away and it is indeed depressing. Occasionally we’ll read about an airline that gets its comeuppance when it violates a Department of Transportation transparency rule mandating fee disclosure upfront – this happened to the Mexican airline Volaris which was recently fined  $130,000 – but, we’d be a lot less depressed if we could be sure the fine wouldn’t get passed on to us passengers in the form of higher ticket prices.

5. Acceptance

If you need proof that travelers now accept fees – or as I suspect, passengers are too beaten down to protest – you only have to look at new figures from the DOT. In the first quarter of this year, airlines collected more in bag fees – about $815 million – than was collected in the busier 4th-quarter holiday travel period of 2011, which brought in $792 million.

But there is a little good news: Airlines are losing fewer bags. Keep that in mind next time you shell out $50 for your bag’s round-trip flight.

More from Rick Seaney:

5 Stages of Airline Fee Grief


Published: July 17, 2012