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Originally published Friday, June 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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US Airways, United add fee for first checked bag

United Airlines and US Airways will follow rival American Airlines in charging $15 each way for a first checked bag. United says its fee...

Seattle Times travel writer

United Airlines and US Airways will follow rival American Airlines in charging $15 each way for a first checked bag.

United says its fee affects customers who buy economy-class coach tickets beginning today for domestic flights starting Aug. 18. The new policy will not apply to premium members of the airline's frequent-flier program, business- or first-class or international travelers.

United is increasing the fee to check three or more bags, overweight bags or items that require special handling to $125 from $100, or to $250 from $200, depending on the item.

US Airways said its new fee will go into effect for tickets booked after July 9. It will also start charging coach passengers $2 for nonalcoholic drinks starting Aug. 1.

The fees reflect a struggling airline industry passing the costs of high fuel prices to passengers. United carried 2.5 million domestic passengers through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last year, making it the fourth-largest airline in terms of passenger traffic. US Airways was ninth with 493,000.

Other major U.S. airlines, with the exception of Southwest which charges no extra fees, are now charging $25 each way for a second checked bag.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, which carries nearly half the passengers traveling through Sea-Tac, says it has no plans to charge for a first checked bag.

"We're OK for now," said spokesman Paul McElroy.

He added that the airline is continuing to look at ways to readjust its service fees as fuel costs rise. But as far as charging for a first bag, "We really have no plans to do it in the foreseeable future."

Alaska's new $25 fee for a second checked bag goes into effect July 1. Customers will be able to pay either by swiping a credit card through a kiosk when they check in, or paying an agent at a bag drop station in the airport. The airline is exploring ways to let people pay at curbside or online in the future, McElroy said.

Unlike the second-bag fee, which affected a small number of travelers, a huge percentage of travelers check one bag.

A family of four, with each person checking just one bag on American, United or US Airways, will pay $120 more in baggage fees alone for a round-trip.

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This comes on top of already sky-high air fares.

Predictions are that if other carriers go along with United and American's policies, many travelers will try to slim down to carry-on weight (40 pounds or less). That could translate into longer waits at security checkpoints where carry-ons are inspected.

Longer waits are also expected at desks where the baggage fees will be collected. United said it is working on a way for passengers to make the payments when they book online. American earlier announced it is doing away with its $2 per-bag curbside check-in fee.

United estimates the potential revenue from baggage-handling service fees at about $275 million a year. It expects the new $15 service fee to apply to one in every three customers.

Separately on Thursday, US Airways said it will eliminate 1,700 jobs and return 10 leased jets to counter surging fuel bills, while Continental Airlines said its planned cutbacks would include dropping service to 15 cities.

The workforce reduction at US Airways pushed the total of U.S. airline job losses announced since May 30 to 9,300. Jet-fuel prices have doubled in the past year, threatening the industry with losses that may reach a record $7.2 billion in 2008.

Continental, the fourth-largest U.S. airline by traffic, will stop flying to airports including Oakland, Calif.; Bali, Indonesia; Cologne, Germany; and Reno, Nev. Those cities represent about 5 percent of the 286 destinations it served a year earlier.

Continental said Thursday it would have details by August on its earlier proposal to eliminate 3,000 jobs, or about 6.6 percent of its work force.

Airlines "have to be decisive and put everything on the table," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. Executives have "a fuller appreciation of the magnitude of the crisis they're facing," he said.

While airline executives have urged consolidation to wring out more savings and boost revenue, the only merger involving large airlines announced this year has been Delta Air Lines' plan to acquire Northwest Airlines.

The value of that all-stock transaction slumped 4 percent Thursday to $1.78 billion, less than half of the $3.63 billion when it was announced April 14.

This report contains material

from The Associated Press and Bloomberg New.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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