More Luggage Just Means More Baggage

In response to rising fuel prices, many airlines in the United States have initiated baggage fees on domestic flights at some point since spring of this year. These measures, meant to reduce the weight of cargo and promote fuel conservation, put additional burden on travelers already struggling with skyrocketing ticket prices and discontinued routes and flight meals.

Major airlines, such as American, United, Northwest, U.S. Airways and Continental, now charge $15 for the first bag and $25 for the second, each way. Oversize and overweight baggage fees also apply. Domestic flights are considered to be, by most airlines, those within the U.S. and its territories (Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands), and, for some reason, Canada. The charges apply only to the passengers flying economy class. Therefore, those who can afford to dish out a ridiculous sum of money for some extra stretching room are spared the $15 to $25 fee.

American Airlines was the first to implement baggage fee making it "the first time that an airline will charge for a service that has always been included in the airfare," according to the Los Angeles Times (May 21, 2008). It has gotten a lot of heat from consumers and press for bringing about a fee on a formerly free service, instead of raising its ticket prices to reflect the cost of fuel. Despite its bad reputation, American tries to be helpful by providing a detailed alphabetized fee list for many odd items, complete with a couple of pictures of said items on strip mall photo booth backgrounds, on its website, Small musical instruments are kindly allowed on board (cue to a picture of a violin floating in front of what looks like hellfire), while larger instruments may require their own ticket (has to be a window seat, not kidding). Upright basses are not allowed in the coach cabin, another issue one should consider when forming their rockabilly band. Other items of relevance, such as surfboards, bicycles, scuba gear, javelins and antlers may be checked in for $100. Pole vaults are not allowed anywhere on the plane, apparently being less acceptable than shooting and archery equipment, checked in at a regular luggage price.

The baggage policy is hardly new to other places in the world where fuel prices have been much higher than in the U.S. for many years. Discount European airlines, such as Ryanair and EasyJet, have been charging passengers ?10 for the first bag and ?20 for the second (roughly $15 and $25 respectively), adding about that much extra for every kg over the weight limit. (Those airlines also sometimes have other fun features, like plastic seats and the first-come-first-serve seat grabbing melees.)

For those in the U.S. there are still some options to save money on checked baggage. Southwest Airlines, according to its website, doesn't charge for the first two bags. JetBlue allows passengers to check one bag for free. Unfortunately those airlines have a more limited selection of routes, and fly to and from smaller airports. One major carrier that still allows passengers to bring one bag for free is Delta, the zombie airline that somehow still manages to operate despite bankruptcy and a horrible reputation. Of course the disadvantage with flying Delta is that, well, you'll have to fly Delta. Other obvious tips include more efficient packing and attempting to cram all your belongings into a carry-on. The latter is more difficult, taking into consideration airline and airport security measures that prohibit any sharp objects and anything but miniscule amount of liquids (unless purchased past security point).

Fuel conservation by airlines is an economically and environmentally responsible thing to do, especially considering the large ecological impact of flying. However, the arbitrary luggage fee, posed with no explanation, only feels to passengers like another rip-off trick by airline companies. The fee also spares non-economy flying passengers, and those that fly often (frequent flyer benefits) and, thus, leave larger a carbon footprint. All in all, the baggage fee feels like the latest addition to the misery and humiliation of flying.