US Airways increases baggage fees

Here we go again. On the heels of greatly improved profits, US Airways has announced an increase of up to 80% on the charge for overweight bags.

In addition to the base price for checked bags of $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second, the additional fees for overweight bags are increasing. Overweight bags that weigh between 50 and 70 pounds will see the price increase from $50 to $90. Supersized bags that weigh more than 70 pounds will go from $100 to a whopping $175.

Will other airlines follow US Air’s lead? Probably. In January 2010, Continental matched Delta’s baggage fee increase and American matched United’s fees signaling a green light for others to follow.

At the time, travel expert Arthur Frommer noted “Any hope that the big airlines might move more gently in adopting such fees has been lost”. Looks like he was right.

Increases in baggage fees might not be all air travelers have to worry about on luggage either. The FAA, burdened by reduced demand for air travel since 9-11 expects an estimated $25 billion decline in revenue over the next six years according to a government report released last reports “Revenues declined early in the decade because of a series of largely unforeseen events, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, that reduced the demand for air travel, resulting in a steep decline in airline industry revenue,” wrote Gerald Dillingham, the director of civil aviation studies at the GAO.

The new US Air fees go into effect, and it says this on their website, “if you bought a ticket on or after February 1 for travel on or after March 1, 2011. They may want to take another look at that policy and/or ask cruise lines about the wisdom of making a retroactive service fee.

Six cruise lines ended up having to refund $40 million in fuel surcharge fees charged to cruise passengers after they had booked their cruises. I’m not offering legal advice here but anyone who booked between February 1st and 9th might have a case.

Regardless, it’s probably time to take another good long look at packing light.

Flickr photo by Deanster1983

Airline extra fees: $2 billion in three months

Airline fees are definitely not going away anytime soon – not after the second quarter it gave the airline industry. Carriers in the United States raked in $2.1 billion in fees and extra charges in the second quarter of this year, a 13 percent year-over-year surge. And, it was good enough to deliver the sector’s first profitable quarter since 2007.

Well, here’s the worst part for you: most of it came from checked baggage fees. This annoyance was good for $893 million in the second quarter of 2010, a gain of 16 percent from the second quarter of 2009. Reservation fees were good for $594 million, with ancillary revenue (e.g., frequent flier mileage sales and pet fees) reaching $618 million.

Delta benefited most from the fees that passengers hate most, at $682 million. American Airlines and US Airways were next.

[photo by cliff1066 via Flickr]

Ask Gadling: What to do when the airline loses your luggage?

Just like death and taxes, another fact of life is that when you travel with checked bags, the airline will lose them sooner or later. Now, before you panic and picture yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere without your bags, you’ll be happy to know that the airlines manage to return almost all lost bags – but it does pay to know what to do when disaster strikes.

So, you are at the airport, watching bags come down the carousel, and an hour later, you come to realization that no more bags are coming, and that your bags may be missing. Don’t panic just yet – the first thing you’ll want to do is check the oversized or overflow luggage location. This is where larger bags are delivered, along with bags that may have shown up early (it does happen). Also, if a bag arrived damaged, they’ll place them here.

If they are not here, the next step is to trace your bag. This is where the baggage tag receipt on your ticket matters – this receipt contains the tracking number required to locate the bag. Don’t worry too much if you lost it, the number is also attached to your ticket number in the computer systems, but the tag is required to actually prove you handed the airline your bag.

At most airports, you’ll need to locate the luggage desk and patiently wait in line. At some major airports, you can also check your baggage location on self service terminals. As soon as you land, the clock starts ticking – almost every airline gives you a mere four hours to file a missing bag claim and get a search started.

Self service baggage kiosks work very much like the check-in terminals at the departure lounge. Once you feed the terminal the baggage locator number or itinerary number, it’ll tell you where your bags are.

Where could your bag be?

Once you start tracking your luggage, the results could be:

  • Bags delayed – on next flight to the destination
  • Bags misrouted – will need to be sent back to the correct destination
  • Bags not found

Getting your bags back

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.

In most cases, your bags will be found in the system, and you’ll know where they are. Usually by the time you land at the airport, the airline already knows they screwed up, and they may even have them on their next flight.

In the case of a misrouted bag, your airport baggage desk will put in a request for the bag to be sent to the right airport – but like with delayed bags, once your tag is scanned, the airline may already know they messed things up. If the bags were sent to an international destination with limited flights, it could take a couple of days to get them back on a plane.

If your bags are not found during a trace, it usually means the bag lost its paper tag. In most cases, the baggage handlers will simply find one of the smaller tags (now you know why the agents stick those all over your bag) and send it on its way.

In the worst case, the bag will end up in a stack of other bags with no identifiers. This is where it becomes very important for you to accurately describe your bag because someone is going to have to manually search for it based on looks.

More importantly, this is where luggage tags with your name will help. Simply telling the airline that your bag was black with wheels won’t help them at all. Always attach name tags on the outside and labels with your name on the inside.

If you want to make life easier, consider these tips:

  • Avoid boring black bags, or get black bags and make them stand out using tape or markers
  • Always tag your bags with sturdy baggage name tags
  • Place name stickers inside your bags
  • Photograph your bags using your phone – this will make it easier to describe them to the baggage agent

Actually getting reunited with your bags

This is where things become tough – because in many cases, you’ll now need to leave the airport without your bags. Unless you know that your bags are already on a plane heading towards you, there is nothing else you can do but wait.

If you are on a trip away from home, ask the baggage clerk for a lost baggage kit – just don’t expect any luxuries here. You’ll usually get some very basic amenities and a t-shirt.

When you fill in the lost baggage form, be sure to tell the airline where to deliver your bag when it has been retrieved. Do not settle for them telling you to come and get it yourself. Make it clear you are on vacation and don’t want the extra expense of having to come back to the airport. Almost all airlines have regular courier services that will deliver lost bags.

You will need a physical address for this, and you will need to allow the airline at least 72 hours for the delivery. If you are on a trip that involves lots of different destinations, consider sending your bags to your next destination instead of risking sending them to a hotel you left two days ago.

The practical side of arriving with no luggage

You probably spent a day carefully packing your bag, and making sure you’d arrive with everything you could possibly need. And now you don’t have any of those things. Thankfully you are a smart traveler, so you did not pack any medication, important chargers or a laptop in your luggage. And since you are smart, you also have one spare set of clothes in your carry-on luggage. Sure, the thought of wearing the same underwear for two days may seem gross, but you’ll survive.

Thankfully, if you are without bags, the airline will reimburse you for expenses. This does not mean you can walk into the local department store and spend $1000 on a new suit – it merely means you can get some basics, and get out of your flying clothes. The airline will also cover basic toiletries and medical expenses.

The airline will not pay anything up front, and it could take several months to receive a check covering the costs, so always be sure you travel with enough money in the event something goes wrong. The last thing you want is to burn through all your vacation cash replacing lost clothes.

The most important thing to do is just relax – there is no denying that arriving without your bags is a major inconvenience, but do not let it spoil your vacation. The bags will probably turn up within a day and all will be well.

One word you must never forget when dealing with compensation: receipts. Keep every single receipt for every purchase you want to claim. Without a receipt, the airline will not compensate you.

Baggage gone for good – now what?

This is the nightmare scenario – the airline could lose your bags for good. In some cases this could be related to theft, in others it could be a lost luggage tag and no way to actually locate your bag. This is where it becomes OK to panic a little, just remember that panic won’t bring your bags back. If the airline has not returned your bags within 72 hours and has not been able to locate them, you can consider them gone.

Airlines are great at limiting their liability. This means they limit how much money they’ll pay you, and they’ll also limit the contents of your bag eligible for compensation. Excluded items include:

Money, jewelry, cameras, negotiable papers/securities, electronic/video/ photographic equipment, heirlooms, antiques, artifacts, works of art, silverware, irreplaceable books/publications/manuscripts/business documents, precious metals and other similar valuable and commercial effects.

Bottom line? Any of those items should be carried on board the plane.

As soon as you get back home, you should file a claim with the airline. Like any claim, the airline will do its best to make life tough, and will require large amounts of proof, so hang on to your ticket receipt, boarding passes, luggage claim tags and print our credit card receipts for ticket purchases.

If the airline does refuse to pay up, contact your credit card company and find out which of your items were possibly covered with credit card insurance. You’d be surprised how easy this process can be.

Travel insurance could be another way to claim the full value of your loss – but be sure to read all the fine print before you sign up for a policy, in many cases, insurance will exclude luggage and many items in your bags.

And if you’d like one final depressing piece of news – airlines will almost never refund your baggage fee. This means you pay them to do something, they fail, and they keep your money anyway. In those cases, you’ll also want to consider a credit card chargeback. Just be sure to document everything, as your credit card company will want proof that the bag was indeed delayed or lost.

Who to contact when your bags go missing?

American Airlines
Continental Airlines
Delta Airlines
Southwest Airlines
Spirit Airlines (Spirit does not offer a dedicated lost luggage help page)
United Airlines
U.S. Airways
Virgin America

Could airline baggage fees create another Steven Slater?

We’re still in the early stages of figuring out just want made flight attendant Steven Slater jettison himself from a JetBlue plane via the emergency slide. There are conflicting accounts from the passengers on board, including those who allegedly pushed Slate over the edge, and then there’s Slater’s story about having been beaten by an unruly passenger’s bag. He raised the issue of how passenger carry-ons are getting out of control – and how they’re only making flight attendants‘ jobs harder.

At the same time, we’ve seen a rise in the number of airlines charging fees for checked luggage. Before this happened, passengers were motivated to bring their luggage on board by the lengthy waits at carousels upon arrival. Now that you’re increasingly likely to have to pay for that dubious privilege, it’s even harder not to carry more on board with you. So, the overhead bins are becoming tighter, and passengers, eager to take their seats upon boarding and get onto terra firma upon arrival, are tangling more and more.

Not everybody has rushed to shove what they would have checked into the overheads, of course. Airlines are reporting billions of dollars in aggregate from ancillary fees, including those for checked bags. That money has to be coming from somewhere, of course. Nonetheless, there’s now even more reason to try to get your bags into the cabin, even with JetBlue’s “first checked bag free” policy.
So, the airlines have realized a return on customer frustration (a financial ratio I wish really existed), making money on checked bags, and at the same time, the flight attendants are sustaining headaches from passengers who are trying to dodge the cost. It’s no fun for anybody, particularly the passengers, who are paying to be put into this situation.

The big question remains: are these policies the breeding ground for the next Steven Slater?

Doubtless, Slater has been off-kilter for a while, having indicated that he’s been thinking about doing something crazy (like this stunt) for most of his career, which is closing in on a quarter of a century. While there are plenty of disgruntled and annoyed flight attendants out there – as there are disgruntled and annoyed people in any profession – this is the first time one of them has a deployed a safety device that could double as a weapon. Most have found ways to cope with the irritations that come with the contemporary flying workplace, and it seems safe to assume that Slater probably hasn’t inspired further in-flight shenanigans.

The implications of having to pay to check your bags are probably being felt in the cabin, but they don’t seem likely to inspire further (alleged) criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. As long as the airlines keep making money of these policies, and it appears likely they will, expect them to stick around for a while. Let’s face it: airlines need the cash. Unless there’s a direct connection between making money and creating another Steven Slater, you’ll have to keep ponying up a few bucks to check extra luggage.

Irish Minister’s fury over Ryanair $120 baggage fee

Ryanair has yet again managed to make the news with their outrageous fees – though this time, they may have annoyed the wrong person.

For the busy summer season, Ryanair passengers will have to pay £5 more for their checked luggage – making the first checked bag £20 ($29) , and second bag £40 ($58). The real kicker comes when you are unable to check in online – which will double the checked bag fee to £40 for the first bag and £80 for the second.

With these numbers, a family of two (each with two bags) that finds themselves unable to do an online check in could be paying as much as $350 for the right to travel with their bags. And when you consider that seats on Ryanair sell for as little as $5, you’ll see why a bargain airline isn’t always the cheapest option.

Irish Finance Minister Sammy Wilson is so outraged, that he is urging passengers to take their business elsewhere. Mr. Wilson says Ryanair is treating passengers with “arrogance and disdain”.

Of course, the big winner in this new fee scheme is Ryanair- just this week, they announced a healthy profit from the past year, making them one of just a handful of profitable airlines in the world. So – if you plan to travel on Ryanair this summer season, be sure to verify that you can do online check in, and that you pack your stuff in one bag, otherwise you may burn through all your vacation cash in just a few flights.

(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)