updated 6/5/2008 5:45:09 PM ET 2008-06-05T21:45:09

American Airlines says its new $15 fee for a first checked bag will affect fewer than one in four customers this summer and won't lengthen lines at boarding gates.

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The carrier said Thursday that it's taking steps, from curbside check-in to the aircraft cabins, to avoid disruptions from the new policy.

American last month was the first major airline to announce it would charge customers to check a single piece of luggage. The fee takes effect on tickets bought on or after June 15. American said three-quarters of summer travelers had already bought their tickets and wouldn't pay the fee.

The airline defended the fee, saying it was a bargain compared with the cost of shipping a 45-pound bag overnight on a package-delivery company. It said the cost of sending a bag from Dallas to New York would range from $150 to $230 or more.

Members of the elite levels of American's frequent flyer program won't have to pay the fee, and neither will those who bought first-class, business-class or full-fare coach tickets or are traveling overseas.

Mark DuPont, American's vice president of airport services planning, said the airline was training employees and tweaking software on ticket agents' computers and self-service kiosks to collect the fee and handle an expected increase in carry-on bags.

"We don't really know what to expect. Our policy is going to be to expect the worst," DuPont said.

He said the airline would treat the first few days after the fee takes effect as if they were a holiday week, with extra employees on hand.

Most flights have enough room in the overhead bins to accommodate carry-on luggage, but when flights are more than 90 percent full — and that is expected to happen a lot this summer — the bins may fill, DuPont said. When that happens, employees will check remaining bags at no charge, he said.

DuPont said American might ask airplane manufacturers to put bigger bins in future planes.

"If this is the wave of the future, you're going to have to ensure that the compartments meet the needs of our customers," He said. "That will probably be on our to-do list."

American and other carriers charge $25 for checking a second bag. The airlines are raising fares and fees to cover the soaring cost of jet fuel, which has nearly doubled in the past year.

American said it has raised fares 15 times since April, but it pointed to an Air Transport Association study that said airlines are recovering only 40 percent of their higher fuel bills.

Many customers understand why airlines are raising fares — after all, they're paying more for gasoline — but they don't like the fees.

"It's not the fares so much, it's the ancillary fees and the extra cost of buying food at the airport," said Kyle McCarthy of Family Travel Forum. "If you're paying for baggage, it's more incentive for kids to carry all their baggage in a carry-on, and that's an inconvenience."

American is a unit of Fort Worth-based AMR Corp.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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