Virgin America jumps on the charge for a checked bag bandwagon

Virgin America is joining the lets get more money from somewhere routine and is beginning to charge for the first checked bag. Unlike other airlines that charge more for the second checked bag and even more for the third, Virgin America is only going to charge $15 per bag up to ten bags. Ten bags!!! Wow. That’s for one person.

Listen folks. If any of you are thinking of moving, I’d move to where Virgin America flies and head there. With an 70 pound weight limit per bag that’s 700 pounds of goods for just $150. Of course, thinking about what 10 bags of 70 pounds each would look like in the check-in line is a bit mind boggling. Not to mention getting it all to and from the airport. (Think what a couple could move with for just $300.)

Put into effect yesterday, this baggage fee applies to flights booked on or after May 5. Although Virgin America is adding a charge for the first checked bag, it’s lowering the cost of changing or canceling reservations online from $75 to $50.

These fees only apply to those flying in the main cabin with non-refundable tickets. First-Class passengers can bring two checked bags for no extra charge and those with fully refundable tickets can bring one checked bag. [See Virgin America’s press release outlining the changes.

Some good Web resources for finding budget airlines worldwide

Six years ago, I wrote a piece about easyJet for the Washington Post‘s travel section in which I described a five-leg trip I took through Europe on the airline for the price of a long-distance train ticket.

The flights were so cheap, if I recall, that the question is this to good to be true? underpinned the journey. I was looking for the catch in flying a cheap-o airline and was pleasantly surprised when I did not encounter one.

EasyJet had been around for about 10 years at the time, but American travelers were only just becoming aware of it and awakening to the possibility of seeking out low cost airlines as a viable, cheap alternative. Since then the budget airline industry has exploded with growth in pretty much every region save Africa, and they are now pretty much the only choice for travelers looking to cover great distances quickly and affordably. They’ve also helped drive down fares at major carriers; it’s not impossible to get a better prices these days on Germany’s national carrier, Lufthansa, than on Germanwings or Tuifly, two German budget airlines.

And as major carriers worldwide bleed money in the current economy, budget airlines are among the only ones in the industry posting consistent, if in some cases meager, profits and boasting of increasing passenger numbers and future expansion plans.

There are a few good Web resources to check out as you plan your next trip. Wherever you are going — Europe, Asia, South America — chances are there is a reputable budget airline that can help you save both time and money.

  • Skytrax publishes its annual World Airline Awards, and the ones that focus on budget airlines are a good place to start if you’re researching the best carriers in a given region. And the rankings are reputable: Skytrax surveys more than 4 million travelers. EasyJet won top honors for 2008.

  • Skytrax also publishes comprehensive reviews and customer comments on all airlines. If you want to find out about a particular low cost carrier, go here and type the airline’s name in the search bar.

  • The Flight Safety Foundation publishes a reliable information on airplane safety. Not sure whether a budget carrier is reputable? See what this site has to say.

  • WhichBudget is a useful site that culls the cheapest flying options between two destinations you choose.

  • Low Cost Airline Guide is a great, easy to use resource for digesting budget airline options between destinations in Europe.

AirTran expands service to Columbus offering another way south

Finally, a less expensive airline has decided that Columbus has a gaping hole to fill–two in fact. After first Skybus and then Jet Blue pulled out of Columbus, and other carriers cut down their service, the options for heading out of Columbus have become more expensive and less frequent.

AirTran Airways’ non-stop flights to Ft. Meyers, Orlando and Atlanta that began this week are an answer to people who want to get out of central Ohio for warmer climates, or to visit their relatives who have moved south. I know a few people who were disappointed with Skybus’s demise because their options for visiting loved ones on a regular basis had ended. There are several other flights to other destinations, but those require a plane change in Atlanta.

Unlike Skybus, that fair weather airline that overextended itself, AirTran’s reputation is one of a cautious, steady airline that is not likely to leave Columbus in the lurch.

AirTran is not one to offer less expensive seats and then charge people for every little item either. The first checked bag is free. The second costs $25. Flights also have complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. Hooray!

Another detail I noticed is that the airlines seems to understand that Columbus has something to offer people looking for an affordable getaway. The AirTran Airways’ Website page for Columbus has a photo of one of Columbus’s gems–the Columbus Museum of Art, for example and there is also a link to Columbus’s GoGuide that lists where to sight see, shop and eat. I second the recommendations.

Ryanair Crews Forced to Take Unpaid Leave, but CEO Optimistic

Low-cost carrier Ryanair will be forcing about 400 pilots and cabin crew members to take one week of unpaid leave. The airline’s brash CEO, Michael O’Leary, said that executives would be hit with a 10% pay cut. The flight crews’ mandated holiday will cost them about 2% of their yearly income.

O’Leary, usually singled out for is over-the-top antics and surly demeanor seemed to be talking sense, for once, when he said that smaller European budget carriers would not survive the current economic sluggishness. However, he was optimistic about Ryanair’s prospects, saying that the money woes will cause people to seek out the airline’s cheaper fares.

O’Leary also said that he is looking to develop trans-Atlantic routes by purchasing larger aircraft from bankrupt or soon-to-be-bankrupt airlines on the cheap. First, though, the airline will have to ride out the current economic downturn and keep their crews from bolting for other airlines.


Could Budget Airlines Unite?

A recent post on Ben Mutsabaugh’s Today in the Sky blog focused on statements made by Frontier Airlines CEO Sean Menke. Menke told a Denver newspaper: “I have been very vocal about (low-cost carriers) having to be aligned through some form or fashion…and not necessarily through mergers.” That’s not a surprising statement from a Frontier exec because of his airline’s buddy-buddy relationship with fellow budget carrier AirTran. The two help each other with ticketing, destinations served and promotions.

But the current economy and gas prices may make Frontier’s approach to the budget game a model for other LCCs. While some airlines, like Southwest, have the clout to challenge the big boys on their own, most carriers are finding their low-cost business model in jeapordy. Alliances could help when it comes to ticket sales and frequent flier programs, but also with the costs of using airports. A band of small carriers could agree to make a LCC hub at all major airports, sharing gates, ticketing counters, even employees. Helping each other a little could keep them all in the game longer.