Which airline made the most money on baggage fees?

Last year, baggage fees were used by airlines to make up for lost fare revenue, as the recession kept people on the ground. This year, it’s just been a great source of extra revenue, as passenger traffic and fares are up – and the fees haven’t gone away. Almost all airlines are getting in on the action, some more egregious than others.

Well, data for the third quarter of 2010 is in, and we can finally take a look at who’s hitting us hardest … and for how much. The numbers will probably shock you. The top baggage fee-grabber owned close to 30 percent of the total baggage fees charged in the United States, a market that has reached $2.6 billion for the first three quarters of the year, and the top five dominate with approximately 80 percent of the total fees charged for bags, according to data from the Department of Transportation.

Let’s take a look at the top five airlines for baggage fee snatching (and then the rest):1. Delta Air Lines, $733 million: in fairness, Delta is the largest airline in the United States, so it’s to be expected that it will generate the most revenue.

2. American Airlines, $431 million: the third-largest airline hits the #2 spot for baggage fees, implying an aptitude for prying open customer wallets yet to be recognized by its competitors.

3. US Airways, $388 million: again, this is an impressive take, as evidenced by the distance between US Airways and Continental, in the #4 spot.

4. Continental Airlines, $258 million: this almost makes the airline look downright reasonable, especially when it’s year-to-date baggage fees aren’t even as substantial as what Delta raked in during the third quarter alone!

5. United Airlines, $239 million:

And, the rest:

6. AirTran Airways: $112 million

7. Alaska Airlines: $81 million

8. Spirit Air Lines: $56 million

9. Frontier Airlines: $44 million

10. JetBlue Airways: $43 million

11. Allegiant Air: $43 million

12. Hawaiian Airlines: $40 million

13. Virgin America: $27 million

14. Southwest Airlines: $23 million

15. Republic Airlines: $18 million

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16. Horizon Air: $13 million

17. Sun Country airlines: $9 million

18. Mesa Airlines: $2 million

19. Continental Micronesia: $2 million

20. USA 3000 Airlines: $2 million

[photo by The Story Lady via Flickr]

Frontier’s new seating: ‘Stretch’ for some, ‘scrunch’ for others

Sure, I think it’s great that Frontier is introducing Stretch — a new premium economy section in the first four rows of coach that adds more legroom.

But what I don’t like is that they’re not taking out any rows in back. Instead, they’re squeezing the space between the other rows to make up for the extra room.

Sounds as though you’re either moving up to riches, or being pushed back to rags.

Originally, seats were 33 inches in pitch — meaning the space from a spot on your chair to the same spot of the chair in front of you. The Stretch section now gets 36 inches. The other seats behind are scrunched to 31 inches — or even 30 inches.

Because of Frontier’s tier class system, the only way that you can get a Stretch seat at the time of booking is if you’re a Classic Plus member. For you, it’s free. For everyone else, you get your chance at check-in. Those in the Classic class can get an upgrade for $15 per flight segment. Those in the Economy class pay $25 per flight segment.

You can currently find Stretch in the airline’s Embraer 190s. A320s, A318s, and A319s will follow suit in the next few months. The new seating class just started earlier this month.


Commuter plane crashed on way to Nome and all safe

Last night a Frontier Flying Service plane heading to Nome, Alaska from Brevig Mission went down with a pilot and five passengers. Although the story is not as fantastical as the Hudson River landing, I imagine the sentiments of those on board are similar, particularly with the news of the crash near Buffalo still so recent.

According to this Anchorage Daily News article sent our way by Matt, a Gadling reader, the pilot guided the plane into a safe crash landing then set off the emergency locator beacon to help rescue teams locate the plane. Only one person suffered a bump on the head.

When the plane didn’t arrive on time after the pilot lost contact with the tower, officials knew something was wrong. The Piper PA-31-350 was found seven miles from Nome by rescuers on snow machines. The plane crash is under investigation, and it’s unclear what happened to cause the crash.

Reading the story reminded me of the harrowing tales my husband has told about flying to fish camp in Alaska. He had a couple of flights where his heart ended up in his throat, so to speak. No crashes, though–just some dips and turns he could have done without. [The photo is of a Piper Chieftain with Golden Eagle Airlines in Australia.]

Frontier not as shaky any more

Frontier Airlines had a tough year last year. A generally tough market, made worse by a bankruptcy filing, called the airline’s viability into question. But, a strong December could be just the light at the end of the tunnel that this company needs. If all goes well, according to the Rocky Mountain News, it could hit its goal of pulling out of Chapter 11 this summer. In November, Frontier actually turned a profit. While this may not sound like much to you, think of the bump in morale, not to mention that it’s a visible sign of progress.

The only stumbling block left is the slow winter season and finding some financing to help the airline exit bankruptcy. At the end of November, the company only had $57.2 million in cash and cash equivalents, a number that will have to go up. But, if Frontier can fix that situation, The Tampa Tribune reports that the skies could be clear by June.

[Via USA Today]

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.