Image: Seattle airport
John Brecher /
By Travel writer contributor
updated 5/21/2009 12:07:36 PM ET 2009-05-21T16:07:36

Looking forward to a quick getaway this summer while everyone else stays home? Don’t expect to see empty seats all around you. Even though the Air Transport Association is expecting a drop in summer travel, planes will still seem full because airlines have taken aircraft out of service, reducing the number of available seats.

There are plenty of other changes well-mannered travelers need to watch out for at airports and on airplanes this summer. Here is a roundup of some of the good, the bad and the wacky fees and amenities you might run into.

No Kiss ‘n Drop tax — for now
In what would have been a first, London’s Luton Airport announced in April that it would start charging drivers £1 (about $1.50) for the privilege of dropping passengers off outside the terminal. Now, perhaps in response to public outcry, the airport has decided to put the “Kiss ‘n Drop” tax on hold.

The idea hasn’t been dropped completely, but right now there’s no set date for when that irritating fee might go into effect. “There are some other things in the project we need to work on,” an airport spokesperson told local papers.

‘Let’s just say everyone’s fat’ tax
Last month cheeky low-fare carrier Ryanair gobbled up headlines when it ran an online survey asking passengers for advice on how to implement charges on large passengers. About 16,000 people participated in the poll, with nearly half voting to impose a tax on any passenger that exceeded a set weight limit and 37 percent voting to charge for an extra seat if a passengers’ waist touches both armrests

After weighing the options, Ryanair officials announced that it would not impose a selective fat tax after all because it was turning out to be too difficult to figure out how to collect the fee without eating into the airline’s fast turnaround times and without gumming up the online check-in process.

Instead, Ryanair came up with a much simpler way to squeeze some extra cash out of all its customers. Last week the airline announced that, as of May 20, every passenger must now check-in online and pay a $7 fee for the privilege of printing out a boarding pass before arriving at the airport.

Passengers who can’t get to a printer before they get to airport will have to pay even more. A bunch more. Ryanair passengers who show up for a flight without a pre-printed pass will be charged almost $60 for a “boarding card re-issue” fee.


Loads of reasons to lighten your load
Like other airlines that have tacked on charges for services that were once complimentary, United Airlines has been raking in some serious dough by charging fees for everything from changing tickets and securing a bit of extra legroom to checking one or more bags.

Starting June 10(for tickets purchased after May 13), non-exempt passengers who don’t use the airline’s Web site to pre-pay checked luggage fees will have to pay an additional $5 per bag to initiate the bag-check process at the airport.

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And don’t think you can avoid this fee by switching to a different airline. US Airways/America West imposed a similar new bag check-in fee for travel beginning July 9 (for tickets purchased on/after April 23). They’re couching it as a “discount” though: travelers who go online to pay for their checked bags will get a $5 “discount” on the $20 first-bag fee and the $30 second-bag fee charged for airport-initiated baggage check-in. Ignore that step and you’ll pay full price. Travel industry experts predict other airlines will join in with similar fees.

Meanwhile, on Air Jamaica's New York-to-Grenada and New York-to-Barbados routes, you can check one bag for free but you’ll have to pay $25 to check a second bag, but that second bag will get second-class service. Air Jamaica will only promise to transport that second bag sometime within seven days of your flight. When that bag does arrive, you’ll have to go back to the airport and pick it up. The new policy went into effect May 11 for the Grenada-bound flights and will roll out July 2 for Barbados-bound flights.

Pillows, snacks, fee-waivers, refunds and perhaps a marriage proposal
Many online travel booking agencies, including Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity, have been running promotions offering to waive booking fees for airline tickets. Some of those deals are scheduled to expire at the end of May, but industry experts think they will be extended. JetBlue recently lengthened a program promising a full refund to anyone who is involuntarily laid off before a trip. The offer is now good through December 31.

Air Canada has removed the $25 booking fee for making reservations through the airline’s call center and eliminated a service fee for travel assistance. Soon, instead of trying to sell passengers a kit with an inflatable plastic pillow and a polyester blanket, the carrier may once again stock planes with higher quality pillows and blankets that passengers can use for free. The airline is also re-assessing its no-pets-in-the-cabin policy.

One of the benefits of the Delta-Northwest merger is that economy-class customers on Northwest-operated flights of more than 250 miles once again get free peanuts and Biscoff as snacks.

And, taking a cue from SkyEurope, which hosted the first speed-dating flight back in 2007, Air New Zealand has scheduled its first matchmaking flight for next October. If things work out, couples may soon be able to tie the knot mid-flight. European budget carrier easyJet is seeking permission to perform wedding ceremonies on its planes.

Musical chairs and the race for Wi-Fi
Not planning an in-flight wedding? Soon, at least you’ll be able to send your sweetie a sky-high tweet. Airlines are rushing to wire-up fleets as business and leisure travelers cheer them on. Delta, American, Virgin America, Southwest and Alaska are all in the race. The latest entrant, AirTran, recently promised to have its entire fleet Wi-Fi-capable by mid-summer.

I’m all for in-flight Wi-Fi, especially on those long, cross-country flights. But now I want some of the other in-flight amenities that showed up on the wishlist Web site that AirTran created as a tease for its Wi-Fi rollout. When asked what amenity they’d like to have on every flight, some passengers asked for magicians, disposable slippers, treadmills, dancing, chocolate mints, hot popcorn, and Liza Minelli. Me? I’d enjoy a good in-flight game of musical chairs.

Harriet Baskas writes's popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the “Stuck at the Airport” blog, a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for

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