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Common baggage questions answered

As you know, airline policies can change without much notice, so  here is some general information about some of the new baggage fees.

Starting with tickets purchased Sunday, June 15th, American Airlines now charges a $15 fee for a first checked bag. United Airlines announced a similar first-bag fee policy for tickets purchased as of June 13th.  US Airways will begin collecting $15 for the first checked bag starting July 9th.

As you know, airline baggage policies can change without much notice, so if you have a specific question, call the airline directly and read the detailed policies posted on each airline’s Web site.

In the meantime, here’s some general information about some of the new baggage fees:

Q: If I bought my American Airlines, United or US Airways ticket months ago, will I have to pay the $15?

A: No. Check each airline’s Web site for specific details, but in general, if you purchased your ticket before the new policies officially go into effect, you will not be charged the $15 fee.  For example, according the American Airlines Web site: For travel within the United States, customers who purchased domestic economy class tickets on or after May 12, 2008, but before June 15, 2008, may still check one bag for free and check a second bag for $25 each way. However, customers who purchase domestic economy class tickets on or after June 15, 2008 will be charged $15 each way for the first checked bag and $25 each way for the second checked bag.

Each airline is also exempting several types of customers from these fees. Again, as an example, American Airlines is exempting customers who purchase first or business class tickets, AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Gold members, as well as customers who purchase full-fare tickets in Economy Class.

Q: What if the overhead bins are full and the flight crew has to check my bag? Will I have to pay?

A: According to American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner, if your carry-on bag is within the accepted dimensions for carry-on bags, (45 linear inches, measured by length + width + height and no more than 40 pounds) and has to be gate-checked, you will not have to pay the $15 fee. But if your bag must be gate-checked and the bag is deemed to be over the weight or size limit for a carry-on, you'll get charged.

(At press time we hadn’t confirmed the gate-check fee-policy for United and US Airways, but it’s likely they’ll put similar policies in place.)

Q: Are the airline’s $25 second-bag fees still intact in addition to the first-bag fee?

A: Yes. On American Airlines, for example, non-exempt passengers will still be charged $25 to check a second bag. But the "good" news, at least for American Airline passengers, is that the airlines rolled back the curbside check-in fees that were implemented a few months back. Or as an airline spokesman put it, "That $2 curbside check-in fee is now rolled into the checked baggage fee.”

Q: How many carry-on bags can each traveler have?

A: According to the polices posted on Web sites of American Airlines and United Airlines, each passenger is allowed to carry on one personal item, such as purse, briefcase or laptop computer, and one bag no larger than 45 linear inches, calculated by adding the total outside dimensions of each bag: length + width + height.

In addition, American Airlines’ policy states that the carry-on bag can not only be no larger than 45 linear inches, but it cannot weigh more than 40 pounds. On US Airways, passengers are allowed to take a personal item and a carry-on bag that can be no more than 51 linear inches.

For more specific information about each airline’s checked and carry-on baggage policies call the airline directly or see these Web sites: