Image: American Airlines
Matt Rourke  /  AP Photo
American Airlines announced Wednesday it would begin charging $15 for the first checked bag, increase other fees, and cut domestic capacity 11-to-12 percent later this year.
updated 5/22/2008 7:05:03 PM ET 2008-05-22T23:05:03

Imagine this not-unlikely scenario: You’re sending your 10-year-old to stay with his grandparents for the summer and he’s insisting on bringing along Fluffy, his three year old Maine Coon cat. Since he’s going for the whole summer, you’ve packed his favorite games, toys, and clothes, along with some presents for Nana. So you are going to show up at the airport with two bags, each weighing about 55 pounds.

But a week before departure, your mother announces that her volleyball team has made it to the finals at the state capital, and they have to postpone your kid’s visit by a week. So you have to rebook your child's flight. The good news is that with airfares still priced at 1970 levels, the coast-to-coast fare on American Airlines cost you a ridiculously low $198 round-trip plus about $56 in taxes. The bad news: You’ll have to pay — fasten your seat belt — an additional $830.

How so? Well, American Airlines announced yesterday that it would begin charging $15 each way for the first checked piece of luggage, in addition to $25 for a second piece. American also increased some other fees, although it wasn't forthcoming as to which those were. knows that one of the increases is for changing a domestic non-refundable fare (up $50 from the previous $100. Another is for carrying a pet in the cabin (up $20 from the previous $80 fee, each way); and a third is for an unaccompanied minor (up $40 from the previous $60 fee each way).

The total round-trip cost for child and cat: $400. The fee for changing the flight date: $150. Plus, your son’s bags are over 50 pounds each, and American, like most airlines, charges $50, each way, for bags weighing between 51 and 70 pounds. Total baggage charges: $280. (Consider yourself lucky: Delta charges $80 for bags over 50 pounds, and we expect American will match that if it hasn’t already.)

Fares low but fees high
Welcome to the new age of air travel. To entice passengers, airlines are keeping published fares low — when adjusted for inflation they’ve never been lower — but are increasingly socking it to customers by adding fees and more fees.

Will other airlines follow American’s lead and start charging even for the first piece of checked luggage? If past is prologue, then probably the answer is 'yes.' (It’s interesting that American was a laggard in adding the second-bag fee after US Airways and United began charging it.)

Is American going to lose business if other airlines don’t go along with the new first-checked-bag fee? Probably. And will this move create havoc at the airport and in the aisles? Most certainly.

Initially, at least, we’ll see more passengers refusing to check luggage, which will clog security checkpoints; and passengers will attempt to bring on board in their cabin baggage all sorts of banned items that can only go in checked luggage, such as large bottles of liquids and gels, and the odd pair of garden shears.

It will be interesting to see what happens if an aircraft's overhead bins get full and luggage needs to be gate-checked. Will the flight attendants be standing at the door with their hands stretched out trying to collect that $15 fee? That should be fun.

Here’s what you can do to minimize how much you have to shell out on these new fees:

  • Fly Southwest. So far, Southwest levies far fewer of these onerous fees, and where it does charge fees, they’re much lower. Other low cost carriers also have lower fees.
  • Pack light.
  • If you’re traveling domestically, it makes more sense than ever to ship your luggage ahead by UPS ground, FedEx ground, or USPS. The last time we checked, a 55-pound bag sent from New York to Los Angeles by UPS ground (4-to-5 day service) costs about $60 each way. American would charge you $50 for the overweight “offense” — plus, of course $15 each way for the first bag and $25 for the second. (At the very least, ship some of your stuff so you don’t go over that 50 pound limit.) Another benefit: There will be no naughty TSA agents or baggage handlers rifling through your things. Oh, and airlines won’t take responsibility for a long list of items in checked luggage (such as electronics). UPS will. And one thing we’re dead certain of: if American loses or delays your luggage, American will not refund your baggage fees.

© 2013 Imaginova Corp.


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