Unbelievable! American Airlines charges $15 for first checked bag

That’s no misprint. It’s a sad footnote to the decline of America’s once-legendary airline industry. American Airlines this morning slapped a $15 fee on the first checked bag, a move the rest of the industry is all but certain to follow.

That’s right. No more free checked luggage.

In a press release, the airline blamed “increasing costs of transporting checked baggage,” adding …

This fee, which is effective for tickets purchased on or after June 15, does not apply to: American’s AAdvantage program members who have achieved AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Executive Platinum level; those who have purchased full-fare tickets in the Economy, Business and First Class cabins; and those with international itineraries (except to and from Canada and U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

In other words, the very passengers who can least afford to pay the extra $15 — families with children, budget travelers and working Americans — are being socked with this surcharge. Meanwhile, those who have the money are getting a pass.

My fellow bloggers are not pleased by this policy change. Over at Gadling, Grant Martin predicted chaos this summer as a result of the new fee. Jaunted thinks American is trying to become the next Ryanair. And the ubiquitous Rick Seaney asked, “What are they thinking?”

But wait! There’s more.

American also said today that it has increased its fees for certain other services, ranging from reservation service fees to pet and oversized bag fees. The increases mostly range from $5 to $50 per service. The company estimates that new and increased fees announced this month will generate several hundred million dollars in incremental annual revenue.

“While we understand that these fees affect customers, we also believe that our pricing for the services we provide remains extremely competitive in the industry and continues to offer our customers ample choice and value,” American’s chief executive, Gerard Arpey, said in a prepared statement. “The bottom line is that our revenues, which include ticket sales and fees, must keep pace with our increasing costs.”

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Even though I think these fees should be included in the price of a ticket, American certainly has the right to charge them in a free market. But I’d like to see some consistency. As I pointed out in an earlier post, these fees don’t always make sense.

If American and other airlines unbundle the cost of luggage from your ticket, and you’re paying extra for all of your luggage, shouldn’t you get something for the money? At the very least, an immediate refund of the fee if your luggage is lost or “misplaced”? And maybe we should insist on drawing up a separate legal contract for the carriage of our luggage, including more compensation when luggage goes missing.

It’s only a matter of time before airlines begin charging for our carry-on bag.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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