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]

Airplane safety applies to everyone, even Willy Wonka

So, I was flying Sun Country Airlines a few months back and happened to be seated in the exit row. Though I’m normally one of those jerks who doesn’t listen to the safety presentation (frankly, I’m often asleep by then), when I’m in an exit row, I feel obligated, so I pulled out the airplane safety card and read along. Much to my surprise, I encountered the characters in the photos above and below. What the devil are Willy Wonka and a ballerina doing on the airplane safety card?

They were subtle — I almost didn’t notice them. I laughed and showed my boyfriend when I found the ballerina, and he found the guy in tails, whom we immediately assumed was Willy Wonka. I reported the findings on Twitter, and some of my more observant friends commented that they had seen Willy, too. I had to investigate. I contacted Sun Country, who put me in touch with Trisha Carper-Ferguson, president of Interaction Research Corporation, the print and design company behind SafetyCards.com. I interviewed Carper-Ferguson via e-mail.

Gadling: What’s the story behind these characters?Trisha Carper-Ferguson: It is always our goal to educate and inform as many passengers as possible about aircraft safety and security. We believe what we do saves lives. At the same time, it is difficult to get the average passenger to pick up a briefing card and spend the few minutes exploring their aircraft information. In 1997 we created a way for a few airlines to make the passenger briefings (both oral and illustrated) fun and interesting with the hopes that it would attract more attention to the information. We created the character cards as a Where’s Waldo type of project. We encouraged the carriers to make it a game onboard the aircraft. Obviously we were limited by copyright and trademark, therefore we needed to come up with universal characters that people from all over the world would be entertained by.

G: Who drew them?

TCF: Our team of illustrators drew them. Specifically Linda Goff and Krista Dunk who were two of our graphic artists at the time.

G: What other products do you make, and do you include this same sort of whimsy?

TCF: We produce (both design and print) passenger safety briefing cards and videos for airlines all over the world. We also have a full commercial print company in-house which produces all types of business printing needs and signage. Not all of our work has a whimsical feel, but if it draws attention to important information then why not? :-)

G: How long have they been like this (and how long will they be like this)?

TCF: The “Character Cards” were only picked up by a handful of our carriers, starting in 1997 with Canadian airlines. I believe Sun Country Airlines is the only carrier currently using them. Thanks again, what fun this has been to revisit.

So, there you have it, folks. Fly Sun Country Airlines and you’ll get a special surprise. Carper-Ferguson and IRC definitely achieved their goal — I’ve looked carefully at every airplane safety card since.

Owner of Low-Cost Carrier Jailed for Fraud

Businessman Tom Petters was arrested in Minnesota on Friday as part of a federal fraud investigation. He is the head of an investment group that owns Sun Country Airlines, along with stakes in several other businesses. He was charged with wire and mail fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Investigators allege that he masterminded a plan to bilk other investors out of at least one billion dollars.

A federal judge in Minneapolis order Petters to be held without bail after a taped phone conversation revealed that the disgraced entrepreneur planned to leave the country. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. Petters has stated that he plans to fight to be released from custody and maintains his innocence.

What does this mean for Sun Country? The struggling budget carrier has always operated on a shoestring. Petters has agreed to step down from his decision-making position so that the airline will not be harmed by the scandal. However, the scandal comes on the heels of the announcement that Sun Country is struggling and will be “temporarily” cutting staff’s salaries by 50%.


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