Why are airlines raising baggage fees? Because we pay, and here’s why …

baggageUS Airways raised its baggage fees yesterday, setting off what’s sure to be another round of me-toos from its competitors. Luggage fees are almost pure profit, and because there’s almost no pushback from passengers, carriers are getting away with these new surcharges.

But why?

I wondered about that after getting an email from reader Diana Choles, whose daughter was forced to pay an extra $260 in excess luggage fees on a flight from Rome to Greece, even though the bags were underweight.

Why aren’t customers standing at the gates with pitchforks and lighted torches?

Here’s what happened to Choles’ daughter:

It was midnight and everyone was so tired. She got to the check in point and was told she was allowed one carry-on and one check-in [bag]. She had an extra small bag — all her bags where under 50 pounds — but a ticket agent then told her it would be $260 for the extra bag.

I am having a hard time believing that this was the case. That was more than the ticket itself. I have a feeling that she was taken.

Her daughter was taken, but she is in good company. We are all being taken.

Let me answer my question about why more passengers aren’t protesting the fees, like Choles. I think they’re just grateful to have their luggage.

Let’s go back to last year, when fee innovator US Airways decided to start charging for soft drinks. That didn’t go so well, and the airline eventually reversed itself. Apparently, having clean water on a plane wasn’t considered optional by most air travelers.

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But luggage fees — ah, that’s another issue.

Imagine pulling up to the ticket counter, as Choles’ daughter did, and being told that you had to fork over $280 (or, for that matter, $2,800). If you don’t, you’re told, you have to abandon your suitcase.

From a customer’s perspective, the airline is holding your luggage hostage. It’s saying: Pay or you’ll have to toss your personal belongings into the trash.

Who wouldn’t fork over the cash?

Now, I don’t begrudge the airlines the opportunity to make money. But not like this.

This “unbundling” madness must end. The Transportation Department refuses to do anything about it, apparently for ideological reasons, so we have to take this fight to someone who will: to our elected representatives.

Airlines must not be allowed to hold our luggage hostage. Maybe the government needs to prevent them from doing it.

(Photo: Noël Zia Lee/Flickr Creative Commons)

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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